Saturday 28 February 2015

Ollie Video

I was in Yarmouth yesterday for no particular reason other than I hadn't been there for three weeks and didn't fancy Norwich. Unfortunately when I got there I realised I had left my camera at home, which was a tad annoying. However I was rescued by the emergence of 34111 on the 1350 to Belton. As we crossed Haven Bridge I had the idea to use my phone to take a video of the journey to Gorleston. What I didn't know is that it would take over 7 hours to upload to YouTube! Anyway here it is, enjoy and next week I'll attempt to record the same journey on a President so you can compare.

Thursday 26 February 2015

Throw Back Thursday - When Is A Coach A Bus?

This is a quite common question - after all go to the states, start talking about coaches and they'll think you're talking about sport. The same applies to the continent - buses are buses regardless of their use. Only here in good old complicated UK to we have a distinction between buses and coaches, which of course gives more scope for increased regulation and red tape.

But occasionally you'll get a vehicle that manages to cover all bases, though to be fair not at the same time. No not Dual Purpose vehicles - that's too obvious! Way back in the last century I did a bit of coach driving on Grey-Green, which at that time was part of the Cowie group, before it was absorbed into Arriva. They had a depot at Ipswich, which I must be honest I didn't know at the time, although I'm pretty certain it had already closed by time I was zooming about. I was normally to be seen either driving old Leopards or Volvo B10M high floor Paramounts, although the odd Neoplan tri-axle decker or Van Hool Scania weren't unusual. But it is the Paramounts we are interested in today. This is how they looked back in the 80's when I was driving them. The pic is by John Openshaw whose Flickr page you can access here.

Grey-Green 864, Volvo B10M plaxton Paramount B864 XYR at Manchester Piccadilly Station     pic by John Openshaw
Grey-Green had a fleet of around 14 of these B reg Volvos - 859 - 871 I think, but unfortunately pictures of them are extremely hard to come by. My regular was 859, which was great to drive. However after the success of Grey-Green's bus operations in London, typified by the 24 from Hampstead Heath to Pimlico they started veering away from Coaching. London Coaches took over the commuter routes from Kent, and the Stamford Hill depot in North London was dedicated to bus services. And a rather strange thing happened to all but 2 of this fleet of coaches. Here is 864 a few years later, quite a few years later, having passed from Grey-Green to Arriva and seen here with A&P Travel, though not sure whch one as there seem to be three of them in Ely, Grantham and Sleaford! Pic is by London Buses In Exile, whose Flickr Site you can access here.

B864 XYR still a Volvo B10M but now a double decker bus.   pic by London Buses In Exile
Here is another of the fleet, 867, another that I used to drive quite regularly, but not looking like this. Seen at Wood Green, unfortunately I know not when, the pic is by Chris Greenwood, whose Flickr site you can access here.

Former Paramount coach B867 XYR at Wood Green  pic by Chris Greenwood
But what about 859, I hear you ask. Well sadly I can't find a pic of her as a coach, but she was one of several of the fleet who weren't converted into double deckers. In the Summer of 2003 I was holidaying in the West Highlands of Scotland. We decided to go to John O'Groats by train and bus, travelling by bus from Thurso. In Thurso there was a small depot belonging to Highland Country, part of the Rapsons Group, which was taken over by Stagecoach in 2008. There, staring me in the face was B863 XYR - I think - with a completely new persona. This was the first I had heard of the XYR fleet being re-bodied. My own 859 also travelled to the other end of the UK and here she is with quite a spectacular backdrop, but not a very spectcular body. I think she looked far better as a coach. The pic is by markkirk85, whose Flickr page you can access here.

Former Grey-Greem Paramount coach B859 XYR at Fort William  pic by markkirk85
Sadly this vehicle was destroyed by fire but I'm sure a few of you to the South of the region are jumping up and down shouting "please, sir"!! Because there is a local link to this bus, which I was totally unaware of until I started researching this post. I mentioned that Grey-Green were taken over by Arriva. Arriva had operations in Essex, and 859 was detailed to a certain town. Here she is in May 2000. The pic is by Stephen Hughes, courtesy of Fred Lawrence, whose Flickr page you can access here.

B859 XYR working for Arriva Colchester on the 1A.    pic by Stephen Hughes/Fred Lawrence
A couple of years before then 859 was wearing a Colchester Borough Transport livery, and I think it really suits her. In a very complicated saga Colchester Borough Transport were bought by British Bus for £1 in 1994, which in 1997 was bought byy the Cowie Group - hence the Grey-Green link, which was renamed Arriva in 1997, which is how she eneded up in Colchester! Still think she looked better as a coach though! The pic is again by Stephen Hughes, courtesy of Fred Lawrence

B859 XYR in Colchester Borough Transport livery. pic by Stephen Hughes/Fred Lawrence
So from Kent and London as a coach, converted to a bus working locally before ending up in the Highlands of Scotland she had quite a life, of which I played a very, very small part. Hope you have enjoyed this Throwback post.

Wednesday 25 February 2015

More Awards For Ipswich Buses

As you know it is the awards season, and it must be said that Ipswich Buses are really raking them in. A couple of weeks ago they were getting two STEVE awards and this week it has been announced that Ipswich Buses are the first recipients of CPT's new Workshop Accreditation.

Recently designed and launched by CPT’s Engineering Committee with support from the Traffic Commissioners, the Accreditation assesses bus and coach operators’ workshops, as well as dealer workshops. It examines them against a series of in-depth engineering compliance and health and safety based procedures. t would seem that Ipswich Buses have passed those tests with flying colours.

Engineering Manager, Nigel Daniels, was integral to the operator’s successful passing of the Workshop Accreditation assessment. Nigel also completed a further two day audit and achieved CPT’s Engineering Manager Accreditation. He now automatically qualifies for affiliate and associate membership of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).

Ipswich Buses Managing Director, Malcolm Robson said, ‘We are honoured to be the first operator to hold CPT’s new Workshop Accreditation. This is a real testament to our Engineering Manager, Nigel Daniels, and his highly skilled and dedicated team of engineers and demonstrates the importance Ipswich Buses places on ensuring the highest levels of safety and compliance.’

For those who don't know CPT stands for Confederation of  Public Transport and is basically the operator's union/social club. Well done to Ipswich Buses and Nigel Daniels in particular, even though clearly this isn't anything like as prestigious as the STEVE award!!!

A lot of this post was taken from Ipswich Buses' press release, published in Route One Magazine. To see the full article please click here.

Another award for Ipswich Buses' maintainance team

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Back To The Dark Ages?

First of all this is a serious post. It is not designed to criticise anyone, or any company in particular, but is my view of the general scene right now. There are no pictures in this post so no comapny can think the picture is a reflection on them.

Last week I was saying how lucky we are here that companies are willing to open their doors to enthusiasts, let us take pictures and give us information that enthusiasts in other parts of the country could only dream about. We are privilaged and lucky. Obviously the sheer number of enthusiasts and bloggers in this area has something to do with it, but it had looked as though companies had realised that any publicity is good publicity, and although there will always be an element of irresponsibility in the enthusiast world, or mistakes made, the majority of that is unintentional and without malice. On the whole the enthusiast world gives good positive publicity, and can even forewarn companies of problems they may otherwise be unaware of. Indeed, as one who isn't afraid to criticise, I thought it important to recognise the good things companies do too, which is why I created the awards.

However, in recent weeks I have noticed a certain nervousness within the industry and fear it may lead to doors being closed and information avenues having blocks put in front of them.

If you follow Greater Anglian's Twtter feed you will know just how many tweets a day they put out regarding the state of their services. Not only do they say if there is a delay but the reason for the delay. If a train fails, which all machines can and do from time to time then they say what the fault is, be it traction problems, square wheels, vandalism, bird strike or whatever. That keeps the emthusiasts happy, the public aware, and most importantly stops rumour and wild speculation. If it is a recurring problem with a fleet of vehicles, such as a dodgy switch they will say so, as they know the details will get out in the end anyway

Compare that to the bus industry. There seems to be almost a state of utter paranoia if details of a vehicle breakdown or fault is reported. We have to be so careful in what we report. Let me give you an example. A couple of weeks ago I was woken up by messages telling me a First Ipswich vehicle had suffered an engine fire on the A14 near Felixstowe. It was already in the local media and obviously when the words bus and fire are put together the imagination runs wild and you start thinkng of burnt out shells. So I contaced various sources and ascertained both the vehicle identity and that the fire caused no serious damage. I published both facts, which in my view stopped speculation and reported fact. I did not report what caused the fire, the consequences of the fire or indeed anything else. I was asked to reveal who identified the vehicle to me. I refused. A couple of days later it is reported elsewhere that the vehicle concerned required a new engine. Again that led to speculation that the fire damaged the engine. It didn't. In fact engine failure caused the small fire, and that is the point I'm making.

Machines go wrong. That engine failure was no one's fault. It was not a sign of bad maintainance, indeed I have deliberately used a case from the depot I believe is leagues above anyone else in the way they maintain their vehicles. It was not a case of bad manufacturing. It was not a slur on either the operating company or the manfacturer. It happens. Is every car breakdown the AA attend to the fault of either the owner or the manufacturer? Of course not. A bus breaking down, or even catching fire does not diminish public confidence or perception. No one stops catching the train after a crash do they! In fact, keep the public informed and confidence grows. Hide behind a shroud of secrecy and both public and enthusiasts unsurprisingy will be thinking hello, what have they got to hide.

It was alarming to read a few days ago that one of the most established blogs in the country, who has done nothing except promote and praise the subject of his blog, has been now told what he can and cannot reveal, despite everything he says being fact. That is like the Red Bull Formula 1 team refusing to let Sky or the BBC say what caused a car to fail on Lap 36. When Top Gear gves a car a bad review, the companies that matter take notice and do something about it. Some throw the toys out of the pram but they just look silly. Censorship from the truth shouldn't be part of a world that still claims too have free speech. North Korea yes, UK well....

I have seen no operating company refuse positive publicity. I have seen no bus manufacturer complain when I, or anyone else give a vehicle a favourable review. However one particular manufacturer is getting its knickers in a knot over the truth being told, and to be honest they should really just be concentrating on improving their product rather than crying foul because of some unfavourable reports about their vehicles. No one, to my knowledge has ever made up faults. We report on facts not fiction.

This paranoia is worrying. It needs to be arrested and soon. If  a company comes out and says hey guys we've got a problem with our batch of X vehicles and are working with Y, the manufacturers to sort it out so bear with us if you get a bus not normally on the route etc, the pubic is going to think wow - they're actually engaging with the passengers and letting us know what's going on for once. They aren't immediately going to jump ship and get on someone else's bus. When you work with machines they will sometimes fail. It can take months, sometimes years for design faults to show up. No one is to blame but in the name of all that's holy just get on with sorting the problem, let people know what the problem is, let us bloggers report it in a positive way - and trust me we do if it comes from the companies involved, and do not forget that truth and fact are far, far less damaging than rumour and speculation. Plus of course we'll find out anyway!  I'm not going to say what I heard a driver blurt out yesterday, but if I did, although I know it to be fact, I also know that it would cause several coronaries at the companies concerned.

Think about it guys. Do you want to have a "what have they got to hide" culture, or an open culture where respect is mutual. There is also a responsibllity on EVERY blogger to not publish every little thing they are told without thought first. Will what you publish damage relations, not just for you but for everyone, and can it be worded a different way so the twitchy companies are happy to keep giving out information. I'm not claiming to be perfect, I'm most certainly not, and I make mistakes which I retract and correct if need be. But If that doesn't happen, then positive publicity will fall, rumour and speculation will increase, and we'll be back to the dark ages of distrust and closed depot doors. That will be a huge step backwards, and will be damaging for all concerned.

Monday 23 February 2015

Service 35 Commences

Today saw the commencement of a few changes to First services in Norwich, chief of which was the splitting of the 36 into two parts. The Norwich to Long Stratton section is now operated by a new service 35, and I sampled the route today.

There are three buses on the route and shortly after I arrived at  St Stephen's St  the most recent repaint pulled up in the shape of ex Yarmouth B7tl 32203

32203 at St Stephen's St on the new 35
A very pleasant 30 min ride later - yes a pleasant ride on a President - and we were in a rather chilly Long Stratton

32203 at Long Stratton
The second vehicle on the route was Trident 33152, still in old Purple Line branding. I assume that when the repaint programme restarts in April this will be one of the first to be done.
33152 heading back to Norwich
Now it's fair to say that councils get a lot of stick, most of it wholly justified. However credit where credit is due and it was good to see that up to date timetables were on display on the first day of the new operating. We'll done NCC. CORRECTION: I have been contacted by Chris Limbach, Network Officier at FEC to tell me that the timetable display is the work of First, in particular Phil Harvey, and not NCC. Happy to correct, Chris and thanks for getting in touch. What I haven't been able to discover, though, is if through fares are still available for the 35/36 or if a stealth fares rise for those crossing the City has been implemented.
The new 35 timetable
My bus back to Norwich was another repaint, this time  Trident 33163. More rattly than 32203 but still  an ok ride. I like the 35 - it gives the buses a chance to spread their wings, and will be a good route for the Summer combining with the other routes serving Long Stratton, Simonds 1/2 from Diss, and Anglian's 83 to Harlesdon.

33163 in Long Stratton

Sunday 22 February 2015

Weekly News Round Up 22/2/15

Welcome to the original weekly news round up, which I am giving a little tweek to keep original and unique, and I hope the changes will meet with everyone's approval. There will be a concise bulllet pointed summary of what's been going on, followed by elaboration if needed, and a list of the week's posts in case anyone has missed anything, and of course the weekly quiz.

News Headlines (put a mental "bong" before each one as required!)

  • Lowestoft ALX400 30886 arrives back from DDA conversion with new destination displays, 30900 goes the other way
  • Yarmouth Gemini 37573 enters service in X1 livery
  • Yarmouth ALX400 32058 on loan to Lowestoft
  • 20515 to operate Woodbridge - Framlingham shuttle service
  • Versas to return to Anglian to replace Streetlites in July
  • Colchester B7rle's go Green 
  • Stagecoach take over a Stagecoach service
  • Great news for Class 47 thought scrapped

To elaborate on some of those headlines: Gemini 37573 has returned to service in the Excel livery after sustaining serious front damage in Gorleston back in 2014. Here she is in Norwich on Monday.

37573 gleams in Norwich Bus Station on Monday
Yarmouth ALX400 32058 has spent the week at Lowestoft as cover after the unfortunate incident involving Yorkshire Renown 62143 in Norwich last week. I understand that as of yesterday (Saturday) it was back at Yarmouth so it will be interesting to see if anything else turns up at Lowestoft this week. Ex Ipswich Scania 65588 is now at Yarmouth indefinitely, and there were reports that 65579 had been brought out of retirement at Ipswich as cover for long term patient 32486, and indeed Dave has spotted her on 60/61 yesterday and on Felixstowes Friday.

It was confirmed by Steve Royal at Konectbus on Monday that when Anglian say goodbye to their Streetlites in July they will be replaced by 4 of the Versas that left Anglian for Konect last year when Konect took over the Norwich City Centre services. This had seemed pretty obvious due to the lack of repainting out of Anglian colours, but good to have it officially confirmed. Of course Konect will have to replace them and this will be done as follows: Oops it appears I will be unpopular if I say how it will be done yet but would have been good if someone from Konect had actually asked me not to publish rather than someone outside the company warning me. My crystal ball is long term VOR. You just know that someone else will now claim an exclusive in the coming weeks.

Anglian Versa 308 AU11 EPF at Swaffham on Monday
On Wednesday I posted a pic of one of First Essex's Volvo B7rle's sporting a green stripe and wondered what it signified. I was then told it had something to do with CRT which meant nothing to me either! Well thanks to an anonymous commentor I can reveal that CRT stands for Continuously Regenerating Trap, which basically means the engines are upgraded from Euro 3 to Euro 5 emissions standard. I also understand this system costs £10,000 a time so not to be sniffed at, although should you sniff it won't be as damaging!

66828 with Green Stripe in Osbourne St, Colchester
Now there have been big things made of the news that Stagecoach are to take over Norfolk Green's Ely Town Service "Absolutely" as a basic service 15. Some people are speculating that this is just the start of an unstoppable advance by Stagecoach to swamp Norfolk Green. I would just point this out: Norfolk Green are part of Stagecoach, and I think far more importantly - Norfolk Green are based in NORFOLK, that is why they are called Norfolk Green. Ely is in Cambridgeshire and the entire route concerned stays there. Enough said.

Now to the railways. Greyter Anglia's refurbished coach 12013 is now in regular service but really it isn't worth the effort unless you are obsessed by shades of grey, which the whole world seems to be right now. Two of the less reliable Class 47's, 47810/3 have been sent back to Crewe for either repair or scrap, with Northern Belle liveried 47790 coming the other way together with a Class 37 which will be used for driver training before 37's finally at long last take over the Short Set late Spring.

Now some good news. A few months ago I published this pic of stricken 47501 at Dereham awaiting road transport to Crewe where it was rumoured the state of her wheels were so bad she would be scrapped,

47501 at Dereham last autumn

Well I am delighted to report that I was told this week that far from being scrapped she has been repaired and is now back in service based at Crewe. If she ever comes this way again remains to be seen but that is great news.

Not so good news is the fate of  the last Olympian to be built - 34110 - which currently languishes at the back of Yarmouth's Caister Rd depot. I thought I had been successful in finding a buyer for her down in Kent, who would have put her back into service and then after DDA preserved her. Unfortunately her condition is so declined that even for a soft hearted bus enthusiast the cost of getting her back on the road is just too much to make it a viable prospect. So I fear that is it, and the last Volvo Olympian ever built will not make it into preservation. A shame.

Weekly Quiz

Last week I asked you to find as many buses in Norfolk and Suffolk as you could that have had 4 or more liveries. I thought of Volvo B7rle 69005 (P&R, Barbie, Corporate and Ipswich). Sam (whose age increased yesterday by 7.692%) came up with 3 Norfolk Green Optare Spectras that have had 4 over the years, but the prize has to go to Joe Wilson, who made me look a right numpty by coming up with Ipswich Buses open top Atlantean IB9, which has had at least 6 liveries. Considering I had taken pics with that bus days previously I really should have thought of it! Well done, Joe, and there is a separate post there I feel! Here she is in Ipswich shortly after conversion in 1985. The pic is by Crewcastrian, who has kindly given me his blessing to use his pic, and whose Flickr page you can access here.

IB9 in 1985 at Tower Ramparts.   pic by Crewcastrian

Now for this weeks quiz - again answer by email only please to avoid spoiling it for others - I want you to tell me how many rail dead ends there are in Norfolk and Suffolk, ie stations or other termini with no through tracks. Bay platforms, sidings, private lines and freight yards don't count. There are a couple of curve balls so think carefully!


In case you missed any posts this week here they are with easy links.

The STEVE Awards  Anglian, Ipswich Buses and Frst get recognised for the good things they have done over the last year

When Dave Went To London  A great set of Borismaster pics by resident snapper Dave Warren

Essex Ecstacy Part One  I go to Hedingham's Olympian Heaven in Tollesbury

Essex Ecstacy Part Two  Obs from Colchester and I get on the wrong bus!

Woodbridge Shuttle Cock-Up and DDA Farce 20515 on Woodbridge/Rendlesham shuttle service and a right rant about DDA and minibuses.

Ipswich Loans History Part Two  Another selection of Bryan Dickson's photos of past loan vehicles in Ipswich

The Extras Items and pics that didn't make the main posts this week

Finally finally I am researching for a post  and need your help. If anyone has any pics of Grey-Green B-XYR Plaxton Paramount Volvo B10Ms they could send me I'll be eternally grateful. Even more grateful if it's B859 XYR as that was my one! Please note I need them as coaches and not any other creation they became!

Finally finally finally I am hoping to start an Essex section to the blog. However I am going to need contributors for both pictures and writing posts, so if anyone from Essex is interested then please email me and let me know. Essex has more buses yet virtually no blogs so the ride would be easier, if maybe not from the companies who would have to be trained, or rather bussed up to be friendly!

That's it! No idea what's happening this week so keep checking in for new posts. Have a great week everyone.

Saturday 21 February 2015

The Extras

Obviously the Weekly Round Up will be posted tomorrow - something that appears to be catching on elsewhere - Lord knows where they got the idea - but this is a bit like the "extras" section of a dvd, where those bits that didn't make the main cut can be viewed.

First of all an apology. When I was in Chelmsford on Monday, as reported I bumped into Dave Warren and his partner, Jo. I was just aboout to board my bus to Maldon when Braintree's ex Aberdeen Volvo B10B Renown came in. I asked Dave to get some pics for me which he did - and so did Jo, who it seems is quite a photographer too. I then completely forgot to put them in the post, so my apologies to the pair of you, and I'm going to put one of each of your pics up and see if anyone can tell who took what, as I could only tell from file size. Dave - you have serious competition mate!!

First Essex ex Aberdeen 62139 Volvo B10BLE X618 NSS at Chelmsford Bus Station
But who took which pic!!
On Monday the Swan spent much of the day with a Larke (don't worry if you don't get that) and ended up at Dereham in the office of a certain Steve Royal at Konectbus. A pleasure to meet you at last, Steve, (what a fine name) and thanks for giving me the opportunity to feel extremely smug by confirming that when the Anglian Streetlites go in July they will be replaced by 4 of the Optare Versas that went from Anglian to Konect last year. How Konect will cover that will be revealed in the Round Up tomorrow so don't miss it!

Another reason to go to Dereham was I knew another stricken loco was waiting at Mid Norfolk Railway for road transport to Crewe. 57012 had been stuck in Stowmarket sidings for weeks with traction motor failure hence the many shades of grey livery. Incidentally the loco to her right isn't a 37 but the slightly shorter nosed class 45133.

A rather grubby 57012 at Dereham
I will have news of a former occupant of that particular siding tomorrow.

Back at Norwich I finally managed to get pics of two vehicles that had been eluding me. Frstly on loan Yarmouth Dart 42921 was plying her trade on the 39's while E200 45117 awaits a new rear axle.

42921 in a deserted St Stephen's St
I also managed to get the rear of newly DDA'd Lowestoft ALX400 30886. The back end of this bus looks a lot brighter now with the new route number display.

30886 showing off her new display at Norwich Bus Station
And finally here is another ALX400 that used to chug up and down the A146 on the X2's - First Ipswich B7tl 32656 seen here at Woodbridge on the 64 to Saxmundham on Wednesday. This bus is soon to be vinyled up for Superroute 66 so won't be seen much on this route after then. Oh hang on this is First and branding so forget I said that!

32656 at a wet Woodbridge

Friday 20 February 2015

Ipswich Loans History Part Two

Part One of  this series proved highly popular - click here if you missed it - so here is the next installment of buses loaned to Ipswich Buses over the years, courtesy of Bryan Dickson's photo collection.

We start with this Volvo B6LE Wright |Crusader M918 MRW from February 1996

Volvo B6LE M918 MRW at Tower Ramparts    pic (c) BD
Next up is SLF Plaxton Pointer Dart N305 DHE which was on loan twice - in March and May 1996

Dennis Dart N305 DHE       pic (c) BD
1996 was a busy year for loan vehicles, and another vehicle to make two appearnces is this Optare Excel L1000 N399 EUG which was on loan in April and September 1996

Optare Excel N330 EUG      pic (c) BD
Inbetween the Excel's guest appearances came another Dart, this time a Dennis Dart SLF/UVG Urbanstar N804 GRV seen in June 1996..

Dennis Dart SLF/UVG Urbanstar Demonstrator N304 GRV     pic (c) BD
Fast forwarding a few years now and in November 2009 you could have spotted this Alexander Dennis E200 demonstrator rattling through the streets of Ipswich.

E200 demonstrator YX59 BXW       pic (c) BD
Not to be forgotten are two Alexander Dennis E400's that made an appearance. first we have this AD Trident 2/E400 that was with Ipswich Buses in June 2010.

E400 demonstrator SN59 AWX        pic (c) BD
Finally for this part here is Alexander Dennis Enviro 400 Hybrid SN59 AWW entering Tower Ramparts in May 2011. My thanks to Bryan for supplying the pics, and hopefully there will be a Part Three soon.

E400 Hybrid SN59 AWX outside PALS      pic (c) BD

Thursday 19 February 2015

Woodbridge Shuttle Cock-Up And DDA Farce

You may have noticed that there are a few sets of roadworks taking place at the moment. Just a few mind you. A lot of them seem to be concentrated in the Woodbridge area, with whole parts of the region effectvely cut off. Major roadworks mean that right now Wickham Market, Kettleburgh, Rendlesham, Eyke, Tunstall and Snape are without their normal bus service to Ipswich. If you live in Kettleburgh, Tunstall and Snape its a case of tough luck as no alternative provision whatsoever has been provided. However, Suffolk County Council have thoughtfully provided shuttle services from Wickham Market, Rendlesham and Eyke to connect with the diiverted 64/65.

However, as you would expect with all things Council all is not simple. The shuttle service from Wickham Market, which replaces the 64, remember, normally leaving at xx50, now leaves at xx15 and connects with the 65, so 30 mins difference arriving at the destination. Coming the other way if you want to travel from Ipswich to Rendlesham instead of catching the 65 as usual, changing at Woodbridge, you now have to catch the 64, again 30 mins difference. Makes perfect sense. Not only that but as you will see the Council have failed to take into account disabled passengers or less importantly the buggy and trolley brigade.

I had to go on my regular trip to Wickham Market today so was able to sample both these services. It should be noted that my journey from Saxmndham to Wickham Market took an HOUR longer than usual, as I had to travel via Woodbridge and double back. Surely the shuttle could have operated to/from Marlesford to give passengers travelling both ways an easy connection. The Wickham shuttle was operated by JR Ewing Executive Travel in a rather plush Mercedes 16 seater minibus.

JR Executive Travel JR11 BUS at  Wickham Market
You will notice the Suffolk Links minibus behind - more on that later.

The Rendlesham Shuttle, however, was most unexpected. First's ex Excel and just about everything else coach 20515 was being used, and that really was an opportunity not to be sniffed at, so as I had allowed extra time to get home anyway I used that to take a trip to Rendlsham and back. Still gives a decent ride and heating was most welcome!

20515 at Woodbridge
Still showing her former employment
20515 at Redwald Rd, Rendlesham
Now the really knowledgable of you may have noticed something - neither vehicle had a ticket machine - therefore no fares were being charged or taken. I can only assume that the Council have hired both vehicles on a Private Hire basis and have foregone any revenue. I guess they save on Concessionary Pass payments too so probably evens out. However, there is the wheelchair and buggy access issues. Obviously the coach is exempt from DDA until next year, but what about the minibus? My local 196 is operated by a 14 seater Transit minibus with no wheelchair access, yet all the Suffolk Links minibuses, as in the pic further up the page all have wheelchair ramps. We have seen Beavers disappear from the rural roads so why does it apply to some but not all?

Well if that Wickham Shuttle is effectively a Private Hire then like the Bernies contracts that could use Ollies on it after DDA then the same applies to this. But that is irrelevant as having checked the regulations (and there are a lot of them) DDA only applies to vehicles carrying 22 passengers or more. WHAT??? Yes that's correct, only vehicles carrying 22 passengers or more need wheelchair accessibility etc.. Now correct me if I'm wrong but DDA stands for Disability Discrimination Act. It is designed so no one is excluded from using bus services regardless of disability. Except if you live in the sticks it seems, because if your bus service uses a vehicle carrying less than 22 passengers then you don't count, and by default are still discriminated against. Yes there is On Demand transport, such as Suffolk Links and Dial-a-Ride, but they all need to be prebooked. It does beg the question - when is discrimination not discrimination and why on earth haven't the disability rights groups been jumping up and down over this. Thousands of perfectly decent, usable buses will be scrapped over the next two years, yet a mobile shoebox with less than 22 passengers can carry on without a care in the world. Talk about a postcode lottery.

So to finish with another rare sight in Woodbridge! I seriously dislike that frog!

E200 44519 in Woodbridge on the 65 to Ipswich

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Essex Ecstacy Part Two

This won't make much sense if you haven't read Part One, so if you need to catch up click here

So after a quite stunning journey from Tollesbury to Colchester on Hedingham's route 91 I arrived in Colchester and immediately saw old friend after old friend. Those of you in Norfolk bowled over by 65588 need to get to Colchester as many FEC Scanias are still very much in service there. Here is 65566 which I believe used to ply its trade in Norwich.

First Essex 65566 Scania Floline S566 TPW in Colchester
Of course there were plenty of ex Ipswich vehicles there - some that no tears were shed when they left but others that were. Here's one that Ipswich would certainly welcome back.

A rather naked 69430 still with no Essex vinyls.
However there are other operators than First in Colchester, and something I hadn't realised is that Stephensons have taken over the previously Beestons operated 247 between Colchester and Dedham. Not only that but yestrday they were using an AD E200 demonstrator on the route.

AD E200 demonstrator YX14 RXB on loan to Stephenson's on the 247 to Dedham
Now my apologies to those Network Colchester fans as let's face it you haven't got a very inspiring fleet. I'm rather ashamed to say I didn't get a single pic so you have my word in the next few weeks I'll get back down there and do a Network Colchester special.  So back to First and there seems to be a new design for Essex involving a lime green stripe added to the livery, like the Volvo 7900's that operate the 100 Chelmsford - Lakeside service. Here is Volvo B7rle 66809 modelling the new livery. If anyone in Essex can tell me the green stripe signifies anything I'll be grateful, as the driver had no idea at all. Incidentally it was the nicest request I've ever had from a driver not to show his face, which is something I try to avoid as much as I can anyway - but well played mate - others would have been far less courteous. I hope this pic meets your requirements.

First Essex 66809 showing off the added green stripe.
There will be those among you who know there are other ex FEC vehicles in Colchester, namely the B7tl's that used to operate the 25 in Norwich. I decided to catch one of these to Colchester Station, so boarded 32478 for the short journey on the 62 to the other side of town. Except I THOUGHT it said North Station on the destination screen when I boarded it. When we didn't go down the hill I was expecting I thought the route must have changed. When we went past Hythe Station I got a little cooncerned. When we entered the Unversiity campus I started to panic as I had a train to catch, then another train to connect with my prebooked minibus and if I didn't make it I was up the proverbial creek. I checked with the driver that he had had North Station up when I boarded which he denied - well he would wouldn't he! Actually since no one else was on that bus wanting North Station I grudgingly accept he might have been right and my eyes had let me down yet again! So having found out I didn't stand an earthly of getting back to North Station I was cursing my fate when suddenly it dawned on me that the bus continued to Wivenhoe Station, and there was an outside chance that I could get a train back to Colchester and still make my connection.

32480 AU53 HJX on the 62 to Wivenhoe
 So I jumped back on the bus, and, as I knew would happen, as we approached Wivenhoe Station so a train pulled in. Luck was on my side, however,  as the bus stop was less than 10 yards from the train and I leapt on as the door closing bleep was sounding. Made my connection with plenty to spare, so yes I was a twit for getting on the wrong bus but thanks to experience managed to turn that into an "alternative route". Ok luck then! All in all a really good day and I must get to Essex more often.

Ex Ipswich Scania 65690 now repainted into Olympia livery and based at Clacton

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Essex Ecstacy Part One

It is probably true that the frst two words of the title of this post don't often appear together! However, today has been one of surprise, nostalgia and a fair slice of luck!

I decided it was about time I found and travellled on some more Olympians before they all get repaced over the coming months before DDA in 2017. First port of call was Hedingham, part of the Go-Ahead East group of companies, which include Anglian, Konect and Chambers. Hedingham have 4 depots, at Clacton, Kelvedon, Hedingham and Tollesbury. The majority of their 28 Olympians - no that wasn't a typo they really do still have 28 Ollies - are at Tollesbury, so that seemed a good place to head off to. Just one problem - where on earth is Tollesbury. I will enlighten you. Tollesbury is a little village not far from the Essex Coast equidistant from Colchester, Witham and Maldon. But more of that later.

I had to totally abandon the plans to get the train to Maldon when Greater Anglia conveniently tweeted that the refurbished coach (see here for report and pics taken on first day out) was on the service half hour after the one I had planned to get. Too good an opportunity to miss so after much timetable checking (most Hedingham services are two hourly in that part of Essex) I worked out I could go via Chelmsford. So I rode the packed refurbished coach and have to say the excitement of getting pics of it that first day was soon dispelled. It feels no different, seems to be noisier, everything is grey apart from those 1970's seat backs and if you are in a table seat it's still bloody difficult to get out. The power sockets are the only improvement I can see. I'm not sure how much per coach GA are being charged but anything more than a tenner is a rip off. The GEML passenger deserves much, much more, and maybe they should have decided to convert those Class 442 emus after all, as they are leaps and bounds better. Better start calling them Greyter Anglia

So I got to Chelmsford feeling somewhat underwhelmed, and went to the Bus Station to find my X31 to Maldon, not expecting to bump into Dave Warren and his fiancee there. Not sure who's stalking who, Dave but was good to see you and Jo. After a sizeable wait, which turned out to be because of roadworks on the A414 (why was I aurprised), one of Chelmsford's finest rolled in. Are they the right words? Maybe not!! Anyway the Dart gave a decent enough ride for a Dart and soon I was in the town of Maldon.

First Chelmsford Plaxton Dart 42483 at Maldon
A 20 min wait and the first object of the day appeared. Hedingham 67, ex Arriva Volvo Olympian P605 CAY came up the hill and was my transport to Tollesbury. A real bus with real seats on a lovely country route on a sunny day. Doesn't get better than that!

Hedingham Olympian 67 at Maldon
Seats!!! Proper seats!! Comfortable seats!! Nice patchwork too!
The friendly driver was more than happy to take me to the depot - tucked down a side street and not visible until you were virtually on top of it. I went in the office, introduced myself, and a really decent chap, whose name I never discovered, immeidatey volunteered to show me around the depot. In all 15 Olympians were in the depot, including 2 in the workshop and one being MOT'd. It was just amazing and the 10yo in me was bursting to jump up and down in excitement. There can't be many depots like this around, and you could sense the fondness they have for their buses there.

Olympians 66, P602 CAY, 73, R643 MNU and 605 in Tollesbury Depot
  It is mainly the ex Arriva Olympians that have ticket machines in them and go out on public service, the rest are used on school contracts - a shame really but saves on ticket machines!

Three of the school fleet, 89 ex Chambers  N529 LHG,  83, ex Dublin Bus M273 UKN, and 95, ex London Central R279 LGH
There was one familiar face there, which stood out from the crowd rather...

740 ex Anglian ALX400 Trdent V161 MEV next to 74, ex Stagecoach Olympian R702 DNH
I was invited back on a schoolday to watch them all go out, and I'll take them up on that offer! Many thanks, Hedingham, a lovely depot with a nostalgic fleet, and I shall return.

After being told I had the choice of a Dart to Witham or an Ollie to Colchester - as if that's a choice - I walked to the village square to wait for the Colchester service to arrive, and got one of those pics that only comes once or twice a yearr - the blue of the sky compliments the Olympian perfectly. Just a shame I was forced to take it with my phone so not quite a sharp as it should be.

Hedingham 74 loads up on the 91 to Colchester.
I would recommend that route to anyone. The scenery is quite stunning and I have got to get out to that resevoir it crosses to get some pics on a sunny day like today. I can't wait to get back there.

In part two lots of sightings in Colchester, including many old friends, and yours truly drops a clanger and gets on the wrong bus!

Sunday 15 February 2015

The STEVE Awards 2014

Rather belatedly, due to Christmas getting the way, as well as annual leave and other committments such as work, the inaugural STEVE awards have been presented at lavish ceremonies this week. Ok well not that lavish but still very enjoyable.

To explain why the awards exist - I am not slow to criticse companies when things go wrong, or where I think things could be improved, and on the whole they take it pretty well, even acting on my suggestions on occasions. So I thought that if I criticise then I should recognise as well, and that's where I got the idea of the awards, not for the usual categories like best route, safest driver, punctuality etc, but for categories not usualy covered, with one or two exceptions. I hope you agree with most of them, but since I do get around a bit - I've travelled on buses from the Isle of Skye to Newcastle to Maidstone this year - the decisions are based purely on my own experiences, as are my criticisms. As the blog expands, as I hope it will, then more people will be involved in the decisions.

In total there were 8 categories, of which 5 have been presented so far. You will see from the other 3 that they will be a bit more difficult to arrange. The winners were decided in Setptember, so recent developments and events haven't really had a chance to be taken into account, but certainly will this year.

The first STEVE award was actually presented in December in a cold and wet Norwich Bus Station to Robin Moore, a driver for Anglian Bus on the 7/61/62. The award was for Friendliest Driver and quite simply you will not see a driver who has so many passengers getting off with a smile on their faces. He greets every passenger, asking them if they have had a nice day, and says thank you and goodbye to each one as they get off. He also has never complained about taking me back to Halesworth normally at least twice a week when I'm the only one on the bus for miles on a set down only journey. I know I never had that patience when I was driving and that clinched it for me. I asked Dave Jordan, Commercial manager at Anglian to present Robin with his award, and I'm grateful to him for doing so.

Robin Moore (left) and Anglian Commercial Manager Dave Jordan with the STEVE Award for "Friendliest Driver"
On Wednesday two awards were presented to Ipswich Buses, the award for Cleanliness and the award for "Most Inspired Allocation" Since I moved up here from Kent 8 years ago you could have led me blindfold (as if I don't have enough eye probs already) onto a bus and I could tell you if it was an IB vehicle or not. They have a unique aroma to them that no other company has, and, interior wise I have never seen a vehicle in a bad state or looking unkempt. I went on a former IB Solo the other week and it still had that IB scent! I must add that this award was decided before the Fresh Start procedure at First Ipswich began, who would have certainly been right up there had it started a few months previously!

The second award was won back in June, when someone at Ipswich Buses had the truly inspired idea to put the open top Atlantean in normal service prior to the Summer open top tour timetable coming into operation. I did a circuit on the 11 myself, and it felt like going in a time machine. It turned out to be a huge success, and if you think it was a one off I can tell you that Managing Director, Malcolm Robson and I were discussing how the DDA regulations could be got round to get her doing it after DDA comes into effect - and there are two Summers to go before that!

Remember when it was hot? IB 9 loading up on the 5 to Ipswich Hospital
IB 9,  Engineering Manager Nigel Daniels and Managing Director  Malcolm Robson with their awards   pic (c) DW
First Ipswich won one award, which was for Friendliest Depot. Over the last 9 months Ipswich has been the centre of attention, with the refurbishment programme and transformation of the fleet. Over that time Depot Engineering Manager Barry Spurling and his team have been magnificent in the way they have made me welcome, and given news and information so freely. Barry always has time for a natter, and I have never been made to feel an inconvenience, even though I know I must be at times! The guys there are equally friendly and are always happy to have a natter. The depot is quite unique in that respect, and it will take something pretty special to wrest that award away from them this year. I have to say BorderBus are right up there too, but they would be the first to agree that the activity and pressure there is maybe not quite the same! Of course no award involving First is complete without Ubiquitous Gonzales getting his face on the page, or Chris Speed as he is officially known as, and I was delighted when he agreed to present the award to Barry Spurling

Engineering Manager First Ipswich, Barry Spurling accepts his STEVE Award from Chris Speed, First Eastern Counties Business Manager       pic (c) DW
And now the award that turned out to be quite a moving affair. I hadn't planned this award but I was influenced by two things. Firstly many people have told me that as recently as a couple of years ago getting inside First depots was nigh impossible. Some rogue enthusiasts had created an atmosphere of distrust, which affected the bona fide respectful enthusiasts out there. One man has changed that atmosphere by recognising that enthusiasts, and even some bloggers on the whole give positive publicity to First, and even criticism, such as I'm not slow to give, tends to be constructive and not the sort the public feedback is. This new attitude culminated in that memorable day at Yarmouth's Caister Rd depot in December, when the Olympian photoshoot was organised for us. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Chris Speed. This time last year we were a bit wary of each other, but now not only do we have a working relationship I could only have dreamed of this time last year, but we have become friends, and that means so much more.

So I decided Chris's efforts to engage with the enthusiast community should be rewarded, and I created the Manager of the Year award for him. Chris had previously told me that he was given his first job on the then Yarmouth Transport by Cliff Hussey, who rather conveniently is now Operations Manager at Ipswich and I thought it would be rather nice if Cliff presented Chris with the award. So on the pretext that I wanted Cliff there to take part in the presentation to the depot, I asked Chris to bring him down with him. Not sure Cilla could have done it any better! On behalf of all enthusiasts who have benefitted from your opening up the depot doors policy, Chris, - I thank you. There are parts of the country where it is virtually impossible to get a depot tour, and they should take you and First Eastern Counties as an example.

Chris Speed gets his STEVE award from Ipswich Operations Manager and first boss Cliff Hussey   pic (c) DW
Chris was that pleased he tweeted this pic soon after, and put it on his Facebook page too - something that I was rather proud to see.

Chris's pic of his award, which he tweeted and put on facebook.
 Now, Chris, maybe we can discuss that hybrid livery for 33423 again..........

The last three awards, still to be presented are as follows:

Company Offering Best Value For Money:  Megabus
Vehicle of the Year: Megabus Volvo B11R Plaxton Elite Interdeck
Company Receiving Most Unfair Criticism: Abelio Greater Anglia

I'd like to thank all the managers and staff involved from the various companies for accepting the awards and indeed all the companies who make an effort to accommodate us enthusiasts. It really is appreciated and I'm looking forward to the difficult task of deciding the 2015 awards