Tuesday 20 December 2016

Are The Railways Going DOO-lally?

Politics is all about argument. Sorry I mean rational considered debate as we see in Parliament every week, and more locally between Ipswich Borough and Suffolk County Councils. It is very rare for anyone engaged in such rational considered debate to say "I say, old chap - you have convinced me I've been barking up the wrong tree all this time, and I now accept that you are indeed correct in your thinking". Just doesn't happen.

In no area has this rational considered debate been more protracted than the current industrial action on Southern Trains. Driver Only Operation divides opinion more than the EU referendum did - those who are for DOO are passionately in favour of it. Those against are almost terrified of it. I am in the latter camp, and I will explain why.

So you're going on holiday, or a business trip, or to follow Ipswich in Europe. Sorry I'll keep it serious but after a nightmare drive to the airport you get to check in to find a bank of machines, no people to ask advice, or about aspects of the flight. A machine checks your luggage isn't overweight, prints your boarding card, and displays "Next Please". Somehow you find your way through the unsmiling passport control, and into departures listening for the automated announcement to tell you which gate your flight is departing from. You still haven't seen a human being to get information from. Of course the business travellers are ok with this - they do it everyday, but the once every five years holiday maker, or the old lady flying for the first time since her husband died and missing his leadership looks hopelessly lost.

Finally your flight is announced, and you walk the endless miles to your gate to see a gigantic Airbus A380 gleaming in the morning sun. The largest passenger jet ever, a monster capable of accommodating up to 853 passengers. Yet as you enter the aircraft there are no smiling faces to greet you, check boarding passes, make sure Ipswich and Norwich supporters are separated and don't spoil the trip for everyone, or help those less mobile find their way around. Still eventually a bleep sounds and the doors automatically close. Instead of the usual safety demonstration the pilot makes an announcement inviting you to "familiarise yourself with the safety notices displayed throughout the aircraft". It emerges that the pilot of this massive machine is the only crew on board. Sure there is a girl with a trolley selling expensive teas and coffees but she hasn't been trained how to deploy the emergency chutes. If the pilot or a passenger were to become ill, well let's not go there. Let's face it this simply wouldn't happen. It wouldn't be ALLOWED to happen.

Scenario B. You're at Christ's Hospital Station in West Sussex. A few commuters are milling around but you need a ticket. Unfortunately the ticket office is only open 4 hours a day, and not when you are there, so you are faced with a confusing machine that won't tell you the cheapest fare anyway. But with more luck than judgement you get a ticket and make your way to the platform, listening out for automated announcements telling you by how many minutes your train is delayed. Eventually a 12 car Class 377 Electrostar arrives - a 245 metre monster capable of carrying over 1,000 passengers, even if 25% of them will be standing. You find a seat, as this operator doesn't have seat reservations, and you travel to London without seeing a single member of staff. Oh sure there's a girl with a trolley selling expensive teas and coffees but she doesn't work for the operator as catering is sub-contracted so if anything happens she'll be of no use at all - she won't know how to open the doors in an emergency that's for certain. It emerges the driver of this massive machine is the only crew on board. If the driver or a passenger became ill, well let's not go there. But that is the future if Southern get their way and you can be sure others will follow. It is ALREADY allowed.

The industry managers and number crunchers say DOO is safe. However they have all failed to take one thing into account. There is a massive difference between being safe and FEELING safe. Not a day went by, when I was a Conductor, that someone didn't deliberately sit in the coach I was in as they felt safer. I did separate football fans, sort drunks out, move people into 1st Class if I knew they were going to be swamped with schoolkids, and yes probably save the lives of a couple of people who had violent fits on board my train. By co-ordinating the emergency response I was able to get them attention a lot quicker than had they had to wait for the train to stop because I didn't have the distraction of driving the  darned train at the same time.. I was able to warn a mum to get her 3yo to sit down whose head was at table level approaching a kink in the track that would have probably knocked the kid out. I knew where to wake people up on the last trains so they didn't wake up in the middle of nowhere. And of course, I was responsible for making sure the train was secure and safe to leave a station, and for evacuation if need be. I was trained to the required standard.

The job of a train driver is extremely stressful. They have to be alert for every possible eventuality, from obstructions on the line, to suddenly changing signals, to poor souls jumping in front of their train, or idiots playing chicken. They have to know every square inch of the routes they drive, where every signal, crossing, set of points, tunnel, emergency phone, braking point, dodgy adhesion locations are and countless other things. Do they need to be responsible for the passengers as well?

The strike is over who closes the doors. I took part in a similar strike on Southeastern when they wanted to expand DOO from suburban trains to mainline. The doors issue is symbolic rather than the be all and end all. If the second safety critical role trained member of staff is taken off the train it makes passengers more vulnerable. We've all seen stories of gangs storming through trains in South East London threatening and robbing passengers. Funny - that never happened on my train or the train of any of my colleagues. Of course if the criminals know the train is unmanned it's like Christmas come early for them. If I could see someone struggling with a load of kids and 5 suitcases I'd go and help them - apart from anything else to keep delays to a minimum. If someone blind boarded I could, and did regularly help them. None of this should be the driver's role - the driver should drive, focus on driving and that's it. Sure, they can release the doors, that's no more than putting the handbrake on but then they should be allowed to relax for a few seconds while the guard does their job of making sure the train, and its passengers are safe to continue.

Now that's not to say I'm against DOO in a blanket way. If the train is stopping every couple of minutes, with staffed stations as the majority are certainly in the London DOO area, and Underground, then it makes little difference and in any case the average journey time is a lot shorter. You could never walk through suburban stock anyway in the past so those passengers have been brought up with the idea. But not if someone is going to be on a train for a couple of hours. What about disabled passengers at un-staffed stations? What about my Mum travellng up to Leicester to see my brother. Who's going to help her? I repeat there is a difference between being safe and feeling safe.

Southern say they will not reduce the presence of the Conductor on board trains that become DOO. Southeastern did though. If our mainline trains were on weekend diversion up DOO lines we'd find ourselves having to get off at the boundary, and because they were temporary duties couldn't do a thing about it. If the safety critical role of the Conductor is not preserved then the operating companies will be able to remove them from trains at a moment's notice, and remember Thameslink are already entirely DOO. Who would you feel safer with leaving East Croydon on a Friday night - a train with a Conductor walking through making sure everyone was ok, or Thameslink with just a driver totally oblivious as to what's going on behind him. I know which one I'd want my kids to be on, let alone my Mum.

A few months ago a shocking story emerged from C2C. A train had stopped at an unusual location, and no one knew why. It was 40 minutes before it was discovered the driver had suffered a heart attack and died at his controls. The safety systems kicked in so the passengers were in no danger. Stuck on a train not knowing what the hell was going on but in no danger, so the number crunchers will be pleased about that. I can say without a doubt had I been the guard on that train I'd have felt the emergency brakes kick in and when I couldn't contact that driver been in the cab within a minute. We'll never know if that could have saved the driver's life but it does beg the question.

Sometimes you have to take money out of the equation, although Southern say this has nothing to do with money. OK. So why do they want to take door closing responsibilities off the Conductors - they have been closing the doors for over 10 years on those trains now. They aren't saying the driver closing the doors is safer than a guard doing it - it's just no less safe. If it ain't broke don't fix it, yet for some reason Southern do want to fix it, and it's no wonder the unions smell a rat.

It is also rather indicative that the public do not seem to be at odds with the unions, but are giving Southern all the blame. We had massive support from our passengers when we went on strike because they WANTED our presence on the train. Seems Southern passengers are the same. The striking Conductors, and now drivers have lost thousands in earnings in this dispute. They think it's worth it, and that alone shoud make everyone sit up and take notice.

I don't expect those in favour of DOO to change their minds just because of what I have written, but I do say to you don't ask railway managers or even journalists what they think - certainly not politicians, but ask the passengers. They'll tell you if they like the idea of DOO or not, and without the passenger you have nothing.

Sunday 11 December 2016

Norfolk Diesel Gala Part Two

In Part One (click here) we had a Class 47, an even shorter Short Set, some blurry 68's and an extremely good looking Norwich Red Line Gemini.

I have always said I will explore the Norwich Network more thoroughly once there are decent buses on it. The Blue Line was done years ago, I've done the entire Purple Line through necessity more than want, done more of the Yellow Line than intended due to getting lost, and the Green Line between Norwich and Brundall. The rest is a void in my education. Now there are a couple of Geminis on the Turquoise Line that stands a chance but I decided on Thursday to do the Red Line back to Thorpe as long as it was a Gemini. Luck was in as 36192, minus front fleet numbers First please note, arrived and I embarked on a route that must take a considerable time to learn. It's not scenic in the slightest and wild horses wouldn't get me doing it on a President but it's one to tick off the list, and the Gemini gave a decent ride.

I now appeal to the Head of Engineering at First Norwich (Chris pass this on please). Using current industry buzz words the "customer journey experience" would be much enhanced if rubber strips could be applied to the inside of what used to be known as "blind box doors" to stop the incessant rattling that the ill fitting doors produce. Wright's fault not yours but it would show consideration for passengers that many operators lack involving minimal cost.

Anyway my luck was really in. Due to traffic congestion caused by temporary lights in Thorpe the 24's were not going to their usual (and my) destination of Sainsbury, and so I ended up at the alternative terminus in Dussingdale which gave a great photo opportunity and chance to natter to the extremely friendly driver, who dropped me back off as close to Sainsbury as possible. So not only great pics but pics at a spot few will get.

First Norwich ex Leeds Volvo B9tl Gemini2 36192 BN12 JYS at Dussingdale
The nearside view
In case anyone is wondering what front fleet numbers I'm referring to here is a much more identifyable 36189 in Castle Meadow. Not 100% in focus as it was a quick rush job to get the pic.

36189 sporting the front fleet numbers
After another excruciating journey back to the car on another Streetlite (it's not the driving but the ludicrously jerky braking system) it was over to Wymondham for the Network Rail Test Train. Knowing what locos were on it in advance made it a must, although sadly I also knew it wouldn't be the regular driver. My old friend 37057 was returning together with a 37 I have wanted to see in the flesh for a long time - the Intercity liveried 37254. A few minutes early in the gathering gloom at 1530 the train glided through the station and was held at the signal just ahead, which meant some good growl as she pulled away.

37057 leads the test train through Wymondham
With the impressive 37254 on rear

The idea was to head back to Yarmouth and meet up with Tim to see the test train there, but I had used up enough petrol, needed a windscreen washer bottle the size of a swimming pool and knew I was seeing it later at Darsham so drove home. What a mistake as Tim got a photo opportunity one can only dream of. On the same platform as the test train with its two unique 37's arrived the Class 68 hauled set. This led to a glorious face off between 37057 and one of it's youngest pretenders, the over 50 years younger 68025.

37057 giving 68025 the look                             pic (c) Tim Miller
Which the 68 returns with interest                             pic (c) Tim Miller
To see these magnificent beasts together really is a collectors item, and at a very unlikely location. Didn't even know Great Yarmouth had permissive working (two or more different trains on one platform). But a great birthday present for Tim!

The two trains together at Great Yarmouth                         pic (c) Tim Miller
And so, kicking myself for not seeing that, back in Suffolk I headed to Darsham for my usual 37 thrash video. By this time the test train was running a bit late, and that had rather unfortunate consequences.

Safe to say I wasn't amused. Even less amused that despite sending the bid to Greater Anglia I haven't heard a peep from them, when Virgin Trains East Coast gave a chap a trip to New York when one of their trains bombed his video of the Flying Scotsman. Will try again!

So that meant my already long day was extended well into the night as I returned to catch the test train returning back towards Lowestoft. The time is 0130, and it's eerily quiet. I heard the train approaching at least 3 minutes before I saw it, but on the return trip it just glides through so no aural treat. Nice acknowledgement from the driver though, who must get constantly bewildered by nutters out in the dead of night videoing trains!

37254 glides through Darsham looking rather ghostly
37057 looking equally spooky

And that completed a long but highly enjoyable day. So enjoyable I'm thinking of taking this up as a hobby! My thanks to all the people I nattered to during the day, as well as the locos for still being around, a testament to the quality of their build.

A quick reminder to please vote for the blog at the National Blog Awards 2017 - full details here.

Have a good week.

Saturday 10 December 2016

Norfolk Diesel Gala Part One

All steam enthusiasts cover your eyes. I think of steam trains in the same way I do Victorian dresses or gas lamps. I have never seen them in action in normal life therefore I can't really relate to them. It's important they are preserved so future generations can learn about them but not really a bag I'm into.

Not many steam trains will get me out of bed early that's for sure, but the Duchess of Sutherland is one of them. I had seen she was due to haul a railtour from Norwich to York on Thursday, and combined with the possibility of a test train in the afternoon I decided to make a day of it. I've also got some pics from other esteemed gentlemen. This will be good.

Except the Duchess never made it. Thanks to some killjoy pen pusher at Network Rail she wasn't allowed East of Peterborough due to "gauging issues"and so the Norwich - Peterborough section was hauled by a West Coast Rail Class 47.  Initially I wanted to video the train at Wymondham but slow traffic put pay to that. So I abandoned the car just West of Trowse, and got my own back on the traffic by standing on a narrow bridge making everyone slow down as I stood waiting for the railtour to appear. A couple of minutes later and 47760 honed into view. I will post a still and full video for every train I targeted on the day.

47760 with the Norwich - York Yuletide Shopping Special

Then it was onto the A47, and to Brundall to get a fix of the Class 37 Short Set. 37419 was leading, and  to be honest if you take the colour out of the still of the set at the platform you really wouldn't know if it was 2016 or 1966

37419 at Brundall

That gave me 15 minutes to find a good location to see the other hauled set, the 68's. I found a bridge on a country lane between Brundall and Lingwood and got ready. Very soon the set appeared with 68005 leading the Mk II's, with 68025 on the rear. Not sure why everything seemed so blurry on this one, but the video is better than the still, even if the still gives a good impression of the motion of the train.

68005 - trust me it is with other short set

Now the sharp eyed among you will have noticed something about the Class 37 set. It has shrunk to two coaches to become the "Shorter Set". This became gloriously evident at my next location. I've wanted to get a video of the set running parallel to the Acle Straight on the A47 ever since it started running with 47's, and I finally got my chance. Having the traffic roar past me less than a yard away was an experience but I got the video I wanted. This time 37405 is leading.

The Shorter Set on the Acle Straight

So what happened to the third coach? Luckily fellow blogger and DJ fantastique Grahame Bessey was hard at work watching Railcam on Wednesday and spotted this rather extraordinary convoy heading from Norwich to Derby passing the Peterborough cam.

57007/305/312, 37422 and the errant coach pass Railcam's Peterborough cam
Absolutely no idea what the coach was doing in the convoy but assume something not working on it.

So far so good and it was time for a change of mode (but still diesel). After a quick shopping trip to Yarmouth I drove back to Thorpe St Andrew and caught the bus into Norwich. I will gloss over the hideousness of the Wright Streetlite I travelled in on because I needed to see something in the flesh. I had been told the newly painted Red Line buses in Norwich looked good and my word don't they just. Even the unavoidable dirt on the buses (you should see the car at the moment) failed to mask how good this red looks.

Ex Leeds Volvo B9tl 36193 BN12 JYT rreceiving some TLC in Castle Meadow
That took me to lunch, and a good first half of the day it was. In Part two I travel on the Red Line, then spend the rest of the day chasing a test train, with a spectacular fail at Darsham and some quite brilliant pictures by Tim of a face off between old and young at Yarmouth.

Now some self indulgence. Some kind soul has nominated the blog for an Award at the 2017 UK Blog Awards and I'm humbly appealing for your votes. To do so you need to click on the link at the end of the paragraph. You will need to give your email address but I stress I will not see who has voted. The sole reason email addresses are required is to stop multiple voting from the same address, so all you Anons rest assured you will remain so. It would be nice to promote the problems facing rural transport on a national stage. To cast your vote please click here., and I thank you in advance. Voting closes on Monday 19th December at 10am.

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Ipswich P&R Update

There have been reports in the local media that First have snatched the P&R fro Ipswich Buses, and are to start running the service from July 2017. The reports claim 20% fare rises, outrage and ignorance within Ipswich Buses, and ridiculous claims from local politicians.

First have indeed got the Park & Ride PROVISIONALLY!. The new structure still has to be approved by Suffolk County Council, which will not be until next week. Fares have not even been discussed so where the 20% comes from is anyone's idea. It is also worth noting that to my knowledge Ipswich Buses did not want to provide a dedicated P&R service, instead extending the 13 which anyone with an ounce of sense would realise that would mean mixing P&R and Chantry passengers. A bit like setting Masterchef in McDonald's.

It is also well known that there is constant in fighting between Ipswich Borough Council and Suffolk County Council so I have a message for both of those kindergartens;

Get your bloody act together and work for the County not your own egos. It doesn't matter if the Park & Ride is operated by First, Ipswich Buses, Donald Trump or Mr Blobby - until the never ending traffic and roadworks issues in Ipswich are sorted it's going to suffer huge delays and will put people off coming into Ipswich. You are becoming a laughing stock except there's nothing remotely funny about it. If Ipswich dies as a town the buck will lay entirely at your collective feet. Grow up and serve which is what you were elected to do.

When First release hard facts and details about Ipswich P&R I will report them. Until then don't read too much into speculation or headline grabbing by the newspapers but it might now give you a bigger idea as to why Jeremy Cooper decided he'd had enough.

Sunday 4 December 2016

Gas Buses Go Orange

With grateful thanks to Cameron Robinson and Tom O'Reily I can bring you the first pictures of  some of the gas buses in their new guise down at Plymouth. Five of them have been repainted into Orange Flash livery, and enter service today (Monday). WiFi has been installed but I understand as yet there has been no refurbishment except a new driver's seat.

Former Anglian 109 AU62 DWC was the first to turn Orange and is the star of the pics I have. It is now renumbered 701

Former Anglian 109 now Plymouth 701 AU62 DWC in its new Plymouth colours.        pic (c) Tom O'Reilly
701 with former Anglian 105, now 705 WX62 HFU        pic (c) Tom O'Reilly
Five buses have been painted Orange, with another five to go purple in the New Year. The final two will be painted into standard Plymouth Citibus livery.

Side view o the new look.        pic (c) Tom O'Reilly
Not completely sure that "There in a Flash" is the most reassuring slogan for a gas bus but they certainly look better than I envisaged. More pictures as I get them. My thanks once again to Cameron for finding the pics, and to Tom for letting e use them. Much appreciated both of you.

Forget Winter - Da Party Bus Is Here!

A couple of weeks ago I gave the link to a couple of Airport cams - Miami and the hair raising Juliana Airport in St Maarten, which is in the Dutch Antilles in the Caribbean. I know that more than a few of you have caught the bug, become addicted to the cams and also passed it on! If so you may have spotted on the St Maarten cam an odd looking bus. It looks like a traditional US school bus with a yellow shed attached to the rear.

MOT anyone?
So I decided to do some research having seen this bus a few times and silly me it's not a shed but a traditional Cajun beach hut! This is Da Party Bus, a tourist attraction that takes holidaymakers on a 4 hour what is commonly known as a pub crawl round the island, charging the modest fare of only $49 per person. Makes Anglian seem value for money!

Anyway the glorified shed does have its purpose - DDA has reached the Caribbean and it houses, or should that be sheds among other things a wheelchair lift. Judging from the reviews and pictures available online it does seem extremely popular, although it seems if you want to go on it make sure no cruise ships are in town.

Da Party Bus in full swing
Now I'm thinking our local operators are missing a trick here. Stick a bar at the back of every 146 and passenger numbers will rocket. Da E200 Party 146 Bus. Sounds good eh? Ok I know we haven't got Caribbean weather so windows can't be completely removed as they are in St Maarten, and rules concerning alcohol and public buses would have to be a tad more flexible but hey - it's all about bums on seats laddie!

How's that for a paint job!
All images are freely available on Google Images but if anyone objects to their use let me know but a name will be required to prevent me ignoring you!

To see full details and more pics of Da Party Bus the official website can be seen here. Good luck spotting it on the Maho Beach Cam.

Also this week I was contacted by former FEC supremo David Squire, soon to take up his new post at RATP Dev UK, who have several bus subsidiaries  including London united and Bournemouth Transport. He has been on his travels again and kindly sent me a few pics from Portugal, including a bus in a rather familiar livery.

Looks familiar?         pic (c) David Squire
David explains; " I'm away in Lisbon and travelled north up the coast to Cascais, the local operator was previously owned by a famous company from Perth and has retained the 1980s style colour scheme under private ownership."

DAvid also likes his trams - RATP Dev UK also run the Manchester tram network - and sent me pics of some of Lisbon's examples.

Add caption
"These "elevator" trams are superb although covered in graffiti as they are parked in town overnight. This one swallowed up a crowd plus a wheel chair - it isn't low floor, no ramp and no fuss, the route saves users the trouble of a walk up a steep hill in case you were wondering"

Add caption
"Final one is of the red livery used for a tourist route, ten minutes into the trip we suffered a blocked line, this is so common place it is included in the on board commentary"

Actually it wasn't quite the final one as David then sent a pic to get all Daimler Fleetline fans salivating!

Add caption
"If readers visit Lisbon, I recommend the 15E tram route to Belem run by a mixture of old and new trams, get off at the Transport Museum (Carris is the operator) it is a working bus and tram depot plus a museum that includes green and orange Daimler Fleetlines, great value at €6 amazingly not a hi viz in sight."

Now have I been watching too much David Attenborough or does the one on the right look like it's mating! Why those top deck headlights? My thanks to David for the pics, good luck in your new job and stay in touch.

Have a good week all.

Saturday 3 December 2016

Ipswich Buses MD Resigns

It was brought to my attention yesterday afternoon that Jeremy Cooper, Managing Director at Ipswich Buses has resigned from his post and will leave the company at the end of the year.

Rob Bellamy has been appointed Interim MD until a permanent successor is found. As yet the reasons for Mr Cooper's resignation are unknown, and it would be inappropriate to publicise any rumours as I'm sure the reasons will be made available in due course. This morning Mr Cooper confirmed his resignation but indicated he is not speaking to the media at present.

As this story develops I will of course keep you updated. My thanks to the many people who have contacted and helped me with confirmation regarding this breaking news.

Tomorrow I'll publish the bus with a shed on the back post, as well as some great pics sent to me from Portugal.

Sunday 27 November 2016

Ollies At The Hollies

I received tip offs from Malcolm and Robin (Malcolm your parents missed a trick by not naming you Batman) from Borderbus of activity at The Hollies camping and leisure resort in Kessingland. In fact I was basically instructed to go up there for a look. So on Friday I did.

The Hollies have purchased 3 ex Hedingham Dublinbus Volvo Olympians, 2 of which are being converted into self catering holiday homes. The third will be having something done to it, but as yet nothing firm has been decided. Also purchased is an ex Hedingham Wright bodied Volvo B10BLE which is being converted into a tea room. I went to the site office to find two really nice ladies, including Louise, who told me about the project. I was given a really warm welcome and given permission to go round the site taking photos.

The 3 Olympians are on the Glamping field, glamping being a merge of "glamourous camping". One is being used to store the seats of the other 2, and is the one with the undecided future.

Ex Hedingham L361 M144 UKN no with more seats than intended!
Moving to the main glamping field and next was L360 M282 UKN. This bus has been stripped out ready for conversion and I was allowed on it to have a look.

Ex Hedingham L360 on its pitch at The Hollies
Lower deck stripped out ready for conversion
And the upper deck, with the seats stored in the bus visible through the windscreen
The third bus was locked up, with a lot of carpentry in evidence. L362 M146 UKN

Ex Hedingham 362 M182 UKN
However it appears some attention is needed to the windows unless a decking balcony is being built and that's where the french windows are going! Nurse for Louise!

No pane no gain!
I have a feeling once completed these glamping buses will prove very popular if sensibly priced. It certainly puts a whole new slant on the term "busman's holiday", or should that be "busman's ollieday"! I'm delighted to report the driver's cabs are being retained which should prove very popular with children of all ages - yes very big children too. A railway coach is also being discussed, which again I can see being very popular. I advised that Hedingham were currently selling off the rest of their Olympians and now was the time to buy with DDA looming, so hopefully there will be more additions.

My thanks to Louise and her colleague whose name I didn't get for their warm welcome, and I look forward to following the progress of the conversions. Now if you need a guinea pig to try them out and review once they're done.......

The tea bar will be ex Hedingham 481 R216 HCD. Not much more than a shell at the moment, but again I'll be following its progress

Ex Hedingham 481 in state of conversion

The engine and everything else is currently under tarpaulin. No idea if going back but if not there is space for one heck of a kettle!

The empty engine bay
I know most of us would like to see Olympians still on the road in public service come January but it's not going happen. Much better alternative uses that will still bring enjoyment to many are found than facing the scrap man, so I really hope The Hollies are successful in this venture.

Coming up later this week a bus with a shed on the back. Never thought I'd type those words! Take care all.

Monday 21 November 2016

Slow News Month

I was reminded last night of an incident in my Conductor days that became somewhat farcical. It was Friday afternoon peak and some considerate soul had lobbed a bike onto the track at New Cross, which had promptly welded itself to the live rail. Chaos. I was due to work the 1730 Cannon St - Broadstairs service and ended up working the 1708 at 1752. I think. Still not sure which train I actually worked but anyhow it was a little full, and I had to make extra stops at Newington and Teynham to compensate for a cancelled service.

The problem I had was the 1730 normally split at Faversham, with the back 4 coaches of the 12 splitting and forming a service back to London However since stock and staff were all displaced no one had a clue what was happening. I warned my passengers in the back 4 to move forward just in case. As it happened control wanted the train to split but there was no driver to do it. So while I was on the phone to control attempting to find out something to tell my passengers a door opened and a lady beckoned me. The conversation went as follows;

"Why haven't there been any announcements telling us what's going on?"

"Because at the moment I don't know myself - that's why I'm on the phone trying to find out".

"So why haven't you made an announcement telling us you don't know what's happening?"

"Because if I was making an announcement saying I had no information I couldn't be on my phone trying to get information with which to make an announcement!"

"I see, so you can make extra stops at Newington and Teynham but life stops at Faversham?"

"Only intelligent life, love"

Yes I reported myself but I learned my lesson and basically this post is to tell you I have nothing to post about! Nothing is going on. Nothing! It's not made easier by the fact that VOSA have decided to change their website and it's now seemingly impossible to check developments on a daily basis as it was previously. This is leaving everyone in the dark, managers and bloggers alike and is very frustrating.

Despite all the "we'll crack it this year" promises the process of leaves detaching themselves from trees has once again flummoxed Network Rail and trains galore are being cancelled, delayed or crocked by slippery rails. Not news as it happens year in year out and is all rather predictable unless you work for Network Rail.

So with nothing going on I thought I'd share with you a couple of sites a few of us have added to the badges on our anoraks. The first is an outstanding webcam sited on a restaurant overlooking Miami Airport. If you like planes you won't be disappointed. Every passenger jet you can think of including the gigantic A380 Airbus. Add to that live Air Traffic Control feeds and it's easy to get hooked. It's free unless you decide to go Premium and you can take a look by clicking here.

I then discovered another airport cam on the same platform, and while not as busy the Juliana International Airport on the tiny Caribbean island of St Maarten has got to be the most hair raising on the planet. The end of the runway is only the width of a road away from a popular beach, and leads to sights like this, which was taken from the beach. Duck everyone...

The Maho Beach Cam gives great views of the beach, airport, and thrill seekers literally being blown into the sea by the jets taking off. It's so popular the Sunset Bar, where the cam is sited even has a noticeboard advertising the arrival and departure times of the big jets. You can access this cam by clicking here.

Last Tuesday I spent a couple of hours in a field with some Highland cattle - as you do -  to try and get some picturesque videos of freight trains currently on diversion down the Medway Valley Line. Here's what I got in very gloomy light.

And that's it. If anything actually happens I'll let you know. In the meantime there are plenty of webcams to keep you amused. Take care.

Saturday 12 November 2016

Oh Yes We Are, Oh No You're Not!

Sorry for lack of posts recently - basically nothing has happened. However this could turn into a huge post which I hope will make up for it.

First of all I'm grateful to Phil Kelly for alerting me to a BBC article confirming what we all know, that subsidised bus services have been cut by more than 12% in the past year. The past year? I'm guessing here but I'd say here in East Anglia over the last 6 years they've probably been cut by more like 70%. Even the on demand services brought in to replace subsidised buses have been cut, so we all know it's not good.

So it was interesting to read what the response of the caring souls at the Department of Transport was;

"The Department for Transport said it was working with local transport companies to improve services and boost the use of buses."

Now I flatter myself in that I keep my ear pretty close to the ground and as yet haven't heard a thing about the DofT working with any transport companies. So I contacted one of the many managers I know to ask his opinion of the Department's statement. After a period of consideration and reflection he replied simply


No elaboration needed there. It seems the main problem is due to the wrong kind of passenger. You see holders of Concessionary Passes are having the nerve to use them. This means the operators need paying for conveying these leeches, and the Councils simply can't afford it as the Government won't give them enough money. So why won't the government cough up? My source continued;

"If the Conc scheme was fully funded by central government it would relieve the pressure on county budgets. The difficulty would be protecting/ring fencing that money to subsidise loss-making rural services."

In other words Councils would use the money to repair schools, keep OAP homes open, filling potholes etc. How very dare they. Of course it's totally justifiable and so any money for bus services would have to be ring-fenced, if it was legal to do so. If it was, however, I can already hear the stampede of other pressure groups heading for Westminster with their own begging bowls which undoubtedly have just as much credence as the bus subsidy bowl does.

But we can't carry on as we are. As my source continued;

"The money wouldn't be ring-fenced but the point is well made that the concessionary scheme is woefully underfunded leading to the bizarre situation where people have passes but no service to use them on!"

Tell me about it.

So several mulberry bushes later we reach the same conclusion. Scrap the Concessionary scheme is an option but no Government is going to risk the unpopularity that would ensue. The same would apply if passes were restricted to the County of issue, especially for those on a border. Charging per journey is one option, but I imagine the admin involved - who paid what on what and was it commercial/subsidised etc would be extreme. And so I'm left with what I have been promoting for years now. Charge an annual fee for passes, then holders can use them as and when they wanted - including before 0930 school holidays. That would generate money to subsidise more services, which COULD be ring-fenced, remembering that Councils wouldn't have to pay for journeys made on services they have already paid for, and any fares taken could be ploughed back into the system. More services would encourage more passengers on both subsidised and commercial services. The decline of the last 6 years has GOT to be reversed.

One stat that caught my eye in the article was this. There has been a lot of publicity recently about overcrowding on trains, and the need for more capacity. There are still three times more bus journeys made everyday than train journeys. That stat has since disappeared from the article, which can be read in full here.

There have been a few repaints. First Norwich ex Leeds Volvo B9tl 36193 is now in Red Line livery, completing the rainbow of colours at Norwich. I can feel a dedicated post coming on that subject.

Hedingham Buses tweeted this morning a picture of ex Konect Volvo B7tl Gemini 513, which only a few weeks ago was on loan to Anglian. It has been repainted in Hedingham colours and looks quite good. It is expected to be joined by two more of the batch, allocated to Sible depot.

Ex Konect 513 LB02 YXE
Another repaint to report is that of ex Norwich P&R Trident PN03 UMC. Unfortunately the bus has joined the Company Who Must Not Be Named so can't give more details than that, even if the company sent me a cracking pic of the bus, but on the condition it wasn't published. Thankfully I had already been sent pics by someone else, which shows the repainted President with no identifying company vinyls so here you are. Many thanks to Liv Rayment for permission to use her pics, and I'm hoping to tell you more about Liv in the near future.

Ex Norfolk Norse PN03 UMC        pic (c) Liv Rayment

Nearside view             pic (c) Liv Rayment

If you recall I was intending to catch up with the Orange Optare Metrodecker demonstrator which has recently been on loan to Beestons of Hadleigh. Unfortunately it was only used while I was away but Beestons have told me that it was well received and liked by passengers and drivers alike, and they are hoping to get the Blue demonstrator soon.

Yesterday, if only for 4 stops while in Lowestoft I travelled on one of First Lowestoft's refurbished Volvo B9 Geminis - 37563 - and have to say the extra legroom upstairs was very noticeable. A great idea to remove one set of seats each side and the two tone leather looks much better. Will have to get a longer ride soon.

As you will all know it's Remembrance weekend, and once again Southeastern trains laid on a special train to commemorate the event. A Class 395 Javelin was vinyled up - 395016 this year, and sent to places not normally served by Javelins. This included Brighton, and I'm grateful to Moleman978 on Twitter for allowing me to use his quite extraordinary picture, which shows the Southeastern Javelin next to a Thameslink Class 700 and Southern Class 377 Electrostar. Not a combination you're likely to see again anytime soon.

The Regency Javelin next to Thameslink 700 and Southern 377.       pic (c) Moleman978
Southeastern themselves also Tweeted a couple of pics of the day. The first again at Brighton.

Not sure where this is but could be Ramsgate before departure.

Well done to Southeastern. I know a lot of  money was raised last year. Since the Javelins are able to operate on both AC and DC lines is there any reason they can't be used on more tours? Apart from being Standard Class only of course!

While on the subject or remembering I'm sure our thoughts and prayers go to friends and relatives of the victims of the Croydon Tram tragedy. It was obvious pretty quickly what had caused the tram to tip over, but could take time to ascertain why it was going that fast. The first tram deaths in over half a century. It is impossible to imagine what those involved are going through and I hope they can all find the strength they need to cope.

That's it for this post. It's all very quiet out there right now so more posts as and when. The gas bus specials are scheduled for the Christmas period btw, when it will be even quieter!. Take care all.

Monday 31 October 2016

A Day Of Two Halves - Second Half

Before I start the second half a couple of Parish Notices. First of all I have regretfully had to turn comment moderation on. This does not mean I will be editing or refusing to post comments that disagree with me, but I don't see why anyone should have to see comments inviting me to take my own life before I get the chance to delete them. So please keep commenting - it makes the blog - they just won't appear instantly for the time being.

Secondly some good news if, like me, you're a fan of the Short Set. Greater Anglia have confirmed that the Class 37 hauled set will be in use until at least early 2019 when the new fleet of trains arrive. The 68's are still due to go at the end of the year though but I must say I'm chuffed to bits over the 37's - far more nostalgia on the railways right now than there is in the bus world.

And so to the second half of what turned into an epic day. If you haven't read the First Half click here. I arrived at Paddington with one thing only on my mind. After having the security forces come down en masse on me in Kent just for taking pictures of trains at an official viewing point designed for enthusiasts to take pictures of trains at I didn't want to be surrounded by SWAT teams for daring to snap an HST so immediately sought somewhere to sign in. Took me ages to find, which involved asking three members of platform/gate staff who couldn't have been friendlier, and in one case really bubbly and giggly. I eventually found the office, signed in with another really nice lady, attached my ID to my lapel which got me in and out the barriers at will and got to work.

I went to Paddington with one thing in mind - HST's. 40 years old this year and I was after two of them in particular. However the bog standard ones don't look bad either! From nearest first we have 43169/056/140/141

Still impressive 40 years on, the HST line up at Paddington
This was the first time I'd been at Paddington for a good 13 years, and certainly the first time I had gone there purely for hobby reasons. There is certainly far more than HST's to see there. Paddington is also the terminus for the Heathrow Express, a quick but pricey route that uses Class 332 Siemens EMU's that I have to say look extremely smart inside after their 2013 refurb, I have never seen 1+1 seating on a train before, and is it just me or can you see where the front for the Class 68 locos came from? Here is 332004.

Heathrow Express 332010
Business First on Heathrow Express
Even Standard Class looks good
 Now the sharp eyed will have noticed a train until recently unthinkable at Paddington. Great Western Railway are replacing their Class 165/6 DEMUs with brand new Class 387 Electrostars, now the GWR has been partially electrified. 387135 was standing out of service and was the only 387 I saw while I was there.

front view of the 387
I am quite a fan of GWR's new green and silver livery, and I think it looks just as good on the old 165/6's, which will be going South and West to replace the 142/150 DEMU's once all the 387's are in service.

A Class 165 in new GWR livery
While we are looking at the new livery last Monday GWR launched it's new "The Welshman" service, and suitably decorated 43187/88 and a rake of coaches. So of course when I saw it on Friday it was about to leave for Penzance. Made perfect sense! Have to say looks good though.

43187 London end of The Welshman

43188 at the country end
GWR have realised the photogenic potential of the HST's  just as TfL have the Borismasters, and there were a couple more examples on show. First of all here is 43126 extolling the virtues of Bristol.

And here is 43146 with some self publicity for GWR

The biggest surprise I had at Paddington was a service I didn't know existed together with rolling stock I wasn't expecting. To be fair it's only been running 11 years and as I haven't been to either Paddington or Heathrow in that time I forgive myself even if no one else will. The Heathrow Connect is a stopping service from Paddington to Heathrow, taking 15 mins longer but far less from your wallet, using 5 car Class 360 Desiros, which I thought, in my ignorance, were only to be found on the GEML. Not so, as Heathrow Express also have one 360 for the Terminal 4 shuttle.

360204 on the Heathrow Connect service
Now I need to thank someone. My main aim was to see two very special HST's. GWR were unable to tell me where they were but Leo Martin, who I met on Railcam did. Thanks to Leo I was at the right place at the right time to catch firstly 43185, recently repainted in Intercity Swallow livery (not sure if African or European swallow for Python fans) and then what I regard to be THE Holy Grail on the railways right now, 43002, painted in original BR livery and named Sir Kenneth Grange, the genius who designed these remarkable trains. I owe you, Leo, couldn't have done it without you mate.

43185 looking amazing in Swallow livery
And from the other side
43002 "Sir Kenneth Grange" looking just magical
Nice innit!
Yes of course there's a video of them both arriving at Paddington, which is where Leo needs all the credit, as it was from his info I was able to be on the right platforms.

I'll put many more pictures up on Flickr when I get round to it! I would just like to thank all the lovely people at Paddington, a really friendly station. In the meantime I made my way home which included an extreme game of sardines on the Jubilee line, and reflected on quite a day.