Friday, 14 October 2016

Not Another Test Train!

The year is 1971, the location New Hythe Station in Kent. A double decker Leyland Atlantean is waiting its time before commencing its journey. A friendly driver is entertaining an inquisitive 5yo boy, letting him sit in the drivers seat, close the doors and start the engine. The kindness of that driver was never lost on that little boy, and 45 years later I remember it as if it was yesterday. Maybe that was the day I decided bus drivers were ok and I wanted to be one. What it most definitely did was mould my own attitude to those people interested in what I drove or guarded. You wouldn't see me stick fingers up at photographers, if anyone had questions I would answer them, if kids waved goodbye at the train I'd wave back, or if in the back cab give them a toot and watch the parents jump out of their skin! It costs absolutely nothing. And yes, I got told off many times for having people standing up front taking to me!

Why have I just related all that? Well last night I was back at Lowestoft for yet another test train with yet another loco to die for. I had known that D6757, also known as 37057 was part of the test train. This particular 37 is in BR green and quite frankly looks amazing. I was praying it would be at the country end of the train so to be under Lowestoft's superb lighting, and indeed it should have been, but due to a late start Norwich was bypassed instead of visited and so was on the wrong end for me. Or so I thought. 37219 looking great in Colas colours brought the train into Lowestoft.

Tim had ventured to Yarmouth earlier to capture D6757 and this is the result - makes a change to see them in daylight!

D6757 at Great Yarmouth yesterday    pic (c) Tim Miller
Now a little about our subject. D6757 was built, or rather completed on 5th October 1962 as I guess it took more than a day to build.  Spending most of her life in the Northern half of the country at tourist hotspots like Immingham and Gateshead 6757 has spent most of her working career pulling freight. The odd sojurn onto cross country work must have made a pleasant break. Twice named "Vulcan" she went into storage in 2004 before being bought by Harry Needle and restored. Now owned by Colas and in full time employment once again this mighty machine is pulling test trains around the country as well as charter trains and railtours. She also looks really nostalgic in the gloom - does this really look like 2016?

D6757 at Lowestoft
Just after taking this picture the driver came strolling up, and I was pleased to see it was the same chap who had been so friendly with myself and Tim a few weeks ago. He recognised me and we started chatting. In fact we didn't stop chatting for his entire break and I discovered he came from the "keep people interested mode". He talked with pride about a young Essex enthusiast who he had got to know on Facebook who had told him where he and his Mum would be waiting for the test train the previous evening, and requests for toots/clag that he'd been only too happy to oblige. He'd even taken the boy's picture for him sitting in the cab of a 37. One nice, decent bloke who said "We have to keep them interested, and it's no expense to make their day by letting them see the cab or opening the throttle as I pass". Quality, and the sort of bloke who is worth his weight in gold for the public image of the railways. And that's before he invited me to take a look in the cab. My first 37 cab visit and I'll be honest, I felt as though I was sitting in a working museum. I've been in hundreds of driving cabs but this was something else, almost a shrine to the sheer brilliance of the English Electrics and their longevity.

The builders plate on D6757
It was time to go, and as well as my usual video at Darsham I wanted something else, so I left Lowestoft before the train and waited at Oulton Broad crossing. I just love the way she looms out of the gloom. Must be said 37219 doesn't look too bad on the back either.

One of the quirks of the East Suffolk Line is that at night the car is quicker than the train and so I made it to Darsham in plenty of time to wait for the spectacular. The driver had promised me a show, and I think you'll agree he delivered. Once again I recommend listening to this over headphones - nothing like it!

What an evening. I'm not going to name the driver as there's always one Moaning Milly who will object to someone being nice, but quite simply he made my day, just as that bus driver did 45 years ago. Another test train in 4 weeks time and if he's on it again I'll be there. An iconic loco being driven by a legend.  Nice combination.

I'm off to Peterborough for a double header trip - half at the rail station and half at the bus station or near to it anyway. There's also a diesel gala taking place nearby but who needs that! It won't get close to last night. I will though have something about buses to post for once - it is so quiet on the bus front right now I just don't have anything to post. Hope it picks up soon.


  1. Andrew Kleissner14 October 2016 at 20:23

    Yes, I know what you mean. I did a bit of train spotting "back in the day" when I was at school and about 12 or 13. We managed a cab visit to a 37 (except they weren't called that in those days!) with a very friendly crew at Liverpool Street and a Peak at St. Pancras.

    However the very best was getting onto Deltic D9009 Alycidon at King's Cross; not only visiting the cab and (incredibly cramped) engine room but having a ride the full length of the old platform 10. A Deltic can accelerate pretty quickly with no load, even in that limited space! Of course the loco still exists.

    One day we were delighted to see the prototype locomotive DP2 coming into "The Cross". We stood by the cab and made approving noises but the driver didn't take the hint. Now that would have been special!

  2. It's not just for enthusiasts . . . . yesterday I was travelling back from Peterborough on Great Northern, and a disabled girl in a wheelchair was travelling with family.
    As the driver was changing ends, he was stopped by the girl (who couldn't speak at all well) and asked to make sure that he stopped at St Neots. He was patient with the girl and took a minute to chat.
    On the approach to St Neots he announced the station, mentioned Lucy by name, thanked her and her family for travelling and wished them a good day.
    As the train left, he treated them to an "ock-a-doodle-do" on the horn.
    It made their day (as I saw them laughing on the platform afterwards).
    Cost? Nothing. PR value? Inestimable.

    Maybe we shouldn't spend so much money on PR campaigns, and instead encourage staff to simply be nicer to passengers. It can be difficult, if you're having a bad day and Joe Public is trying their best to wind you up, but I'll be trying harder in future.

    1. Brilliant, and I think I see a regular series of posts coming with good deeds we have seen publicised. Yesterday I was at Peterborough myself and was idly standing at the London end of platform 3 when a Virgin EC train stopped. The driver got out the cab and promptly took a picture of his own train. I told him how good that was to see and he gave me a big geordie grin and proceeded to natter until he had to dash back to his cab. Lovely chap, obviously been doing the job years as he was talking about Deltics, and was a bright spot in my day.

  3. Bus Users UK Annual Report

    The report does not make good reading. The biggest single cause of complaints and it has been increasing fast is Driver Attitude. It accounted for 26% of companints and is an increasing problem. Bus companies do not seem to be getting to grip with this issue. The second largest issue at 22% is service reliability again an issue the bus companies do not seem to be managing to solve. The third largest at 12% is the bus failed to turn up(I would have though this should have been included under service reliability . If you combine the two a massive 35% of complants concern service reliability.. Given outside of the large towns and cities service levels are typialy hourly this is really unaccptable and must be damaging the industry

    1. I would take the Driver Attitude figures with a degree of scepticism. The truth is on the whole, certainly in my experience, drivers are a lot friendlier in general than they were say 20 years ago, and operators have made an effort in this respect. However, every new friendly driver makes the miserable ones seem even more miserable, and with the ease in which complaints can be made these days compared to 20 years ago then the public are more likely to complain.

      There is a national shortage of bus drivers - many are retiring but there aren't enough younger drivers replacing them, and this is something operators AND GOVERNMENT really need to look at - it isn't cheap to become a bus driver and a loot of hoops have to be jumped through, CRB, CPC card etc, and then when qualified the wages aren't exactly fantastic. Something needs to be done, and done fast, and a whole new attitude to working conditions/shift patterns etc is needed to reverse this decline in people wanting to become bus drivers.

    2. Here's a scenario, all too common nowadays:
      Bus arrives (running late) . . . passenger boards and proceeds to rant at driver about bus running late. Driver responds by saying that traffic is bad (but this is the nnn'th passenger to bang on at driver about late running, and his response is a tad abrupt).
      Driver scores badly in attitude, but is it really his fault? Perhaps if passengers were a little more reasonable, we'd all have a better day.
      Society does seem to expect perfection, and expect it NOW, and life isn't quite like that. If we all took a chill pill, then we'd all be less stressed and able to accept little hiccups in our day.
      I'm with Steve here . . . . there are plenty of drivers who like the job itself (and are good at it with the right attitude), but the continual traffic congestion, whinges from passengers and complaints from t'wife about shift work mean that they have to leave. The money isn't such an issue - - - - here in London we're seeing drivers preferring shorter shifts even if the wages come down . . . . not good for the Company, as we have to employ more drivers to cover!
      As always, there's no easy answer to the eternal question of Life!!!

    3. greenline: I always appreciate your practical input. But as a Controller (I think?) how can regularly on 10 minute frequency services no bus turn up for 30 minutes, 45 minutes or over a hour, and at times when the roads aren't completely blocked? That means 4 (or more) buses disappearing in a row! If it's 25 minutes walk, and no buses for over half an hour on the ten minute frequency, then why should anyone use the bus, and aren't the bus companies wasting their (as well as our) time and their resources? This ten minute gimmick, for that is what it looks like, seems just a gimmick. Surely we'd all be better off with hourly or half-hourly services that actually run, even if as you say inevitably a bit late sometimes?

      I am talking about local (not London) experience.Sort this conundrum and maybe we'd get somewhere.

  4. This is from personal impressions so can therefore rightly be criticised. But as with virtually every public service the high point of poor service and bad attitude came in my experience in the 1960s and 1970s. (And in those days I met some of the best drivers for customer service I've ever had, and some of the worst). Things have improved a lot since, and not the least of the reasons for that is the influx of foreigners, who we now want to get rid of, apparently. So is it hardly surprising if we make a return to the "bad old days" of short-staffing and low morale? That being said, social media distorts everything, so I take the self-selecting surveys with a pinch of salt. I, for one, never answer a survey, and I doubt I'm alone. Basically I'm not in a position to judge.

    What I do worry about is that if bus managements are like the rest of them, (and why wouldn't they be) it's a constant stream of do's and don'ts, and with all that going round in their heads it's a wonder that bus drivers have the time or the confidence to deal with the passengers at all. I once tried to read the Arriva manual on-line, and I was horrified. I think they just collected everything from everybody over the last 100 years. It was like an advice tip.

    I heard the story in the 1970s that one of the Stateside department stores (the Americans know how to do customer service) had a single page staff manual in the 1930s with just the words "In all things use your own best judgement". We could learn from it. We've dumbed down, not levelled up.

    And no-one has yet explained to me how you can keep to the Traffic Commissioner rules about "no more than 1 minute early or eight(?) minutes late", without missing stops or short-circuiting routes and generally tying to speed up the passengers rather than allowing the time to deal with them? As in everything else it seems we create our own problems.

    1. I will say one more thing though: keep Government out of it PLEASE. Every morning my PC wakes up to a US homepage that reads "Government: If you think the problems we create are bad, just wait until you see our solutions". And every day the news just proves how right it is!!!

    2. THe timetables should allow for that as well as normasl traffic condition. One problem is that bus companies and council like to have fixed interval timetables which means standard running times throughout the day which means the buses either have far to much running time off peak or not enough running time at peaks

    3. It may be different elsewhere; but my experience of driving in Essex is that a half-hour daytime journey, for instance, can take an hour (or longer) if there is an accident, congestion or roadworks. I'm not sure how you timetable for the accidents (how do you know where and when they are going to occur for a start - and what about the ones that gum up the town which is where most journeys start or end?), and which seem to be a daily occurrence; and you certainly often don't get 6 weeks notice of the roadworks. It's surprising what traffic mayhem fixing a pothole can cause (or even a delivery vehicle), in the "wrong" location. And it's not just clearing the accidents but the investigation work afterwards (in our litigious culture), which frequently takes so much time. Buses too have to cope with knock-on effects when drivers or vehicles are displaced. There aren't plenty of spares knocking around, or the spare cash to pay for them.

      The standard I observe of public driving has certainly declined, I suspect that gadgets and tiredness don't help; nor I think do larger and sportier cars without the appropriate improvement in driving skills to cope with them (from personal experience, too) and the ever-increasing number of older drivers with the inevitable health issues that come with old-age. Driving, especially these days, is something that requires sharp observation and quick reflexes.

      Add to all that the sheer volume of traffic. Cambridge is an extreme case but a 20m Park and ride journey can take an hour and a half. Timetable for that, and you'd just give up.

      In some cases we ask for it: two recent examples spring to mind, the driver who stopped for passengers standing at a bus stop "and was looked at as though he had two heads" so now he looks for a signal, and a mother with an epileptic child parked in a disabled space and who, when challenged by an elderly pedestrian, explained why, and the complainant just "walked off". I think we all need to learn some manners.

    4. This pains me to say it, but Smurf has a point. Life isn't predictable in the main, and peak hour congestion is nothing new, yet no two peak hours are the same. I used to catch the same bus hoe from school every day, yet rarely did I get home at the same time two days running. Fridays were always the worst so should there be a Fridays only timetable? Oh of course traffic is always lighter in school holidays so make that a Friday schooldays only timetable. You'd end up with a timetable the size of a telephone directory.

      The issue is, I believe, that if the public knew that the only reason a bus didn't turn up on time was for trsffic reasons they would be far more understanding. But it's the uncertainty of not knowing if it's traffic, or driver shortage, or breakdown etc. Until real time info, not pre-programmed but live info is available at all bus stops then that uncertainty will remain. And before Smurf says it who's going to pay for that live info? Forget social media - either operators can't be bothered, are ignorant of individual problems, or are telling us a plastic gnome has an ice cream. In fairness Borderbus do tweet if any of their buses are delayed by more than a few minutes but hw many of their (mainly senior) passengers are monitoring Twitter or even know about it. Then of course in the outback most of us live in the chances of having a decent mobile signal to receive the tweets are minimal anyway.

      Either way bus operators cannot be blamed for traffic issues anymore than rail operators can be for overrunning engineering works.

    5. Ooh Steve, that looks like a compliment! But how would we get the data to the bus stops without a mobile signal?

      A question for greenline (or even the now all-powerful Chris) perhaps: why can't bus controllers/supervisors tweet from the depot as part of their job? Others manage it. If they're telling the bus drivers what to do to manage problems, why can't they tell the passengers at the same time? Why does it all have to go via Norwich by what at times seems to be the carrier pigeon, or to wait hours or days for the "system" to update? What is the magic "system" by the way that operates - if at all - in such mysterious ways? The mind boggles. Why should customers have to ask for a relayed message all the time? It shouldn't be left to the gnome (not that I mind the gnome, just not my cup of tea). (In fairness Arriva and Stagecoach aren't much better). The internet and GPS aren't perfect we know, but they should be used. See Uno's tweets for what I think is a good example on a more complex network.

      In Essex we were told a couple of years ago that depot tweeting was imminent. They seem to be stretching the meaning of the term a bit. Was the gnome a substitute to keep the waiting passengers amused?

      Just though for a bit of fairness. I was shocked, and pleased, to see that First at extremely short notice posted notices at all my village bus stops that they were closed due to a short notice road closure this last weekend. Only trouble was the passengers didn't read them and queued for the non-existent bus. I really haven't got an answer to that bit of public stupidity.