Sunday 12 March 2017

Road Trip To Peterborough

Not the most chique of destinations I know, and last time I reported from Peterborough I hinted you would need a pretty good reason to go there. Well I did! Thanks to Lincoln City making it to the quarter finals of the FA Cup a charter train was taking supporters down to Finsbury Park for the clash against Arsenal. Rail Operations Group were doing the honours and since they only have decent locos I wanted to see them, so made a day of it.

However I haven't been to Peterborough on the X1 since the E400's came into service and I have no intention to either, so instead I drove to Bury St Edmunds at a time I had forgotten existed on a Saturday, fell into the arms of Stagecoach and let them carry me for the day. I knew I'd just be avoiding one fleet of E400's to travel on another and sure enough in pulled Stagecoach 19601, AE10 BXO. I fully expected a very rattly ride to Cambridge but no. Not at all. The thing was silent, in fact I can say it was the least rattly E400 on a Dennis chassis I've ever been on. Ever! It was an absolute joy to travel on and I swear on all I hold dear that if all E4oo's were like this one I would be shouting their praises from the rooftops. I'll even publish the shocking pic I took of it at Bury because it deserves the limelight! Lopsided, out of focus, but a ruddy good bus.

Well it was bloody early for me!
Told you it was shocking! Anyway it was my first time on that route and it won't be the last. Really picturesque and only just over an hour to Cambridge. Plus it goes through Newmarket, the home of horse racing, not exactly a slum, and there aren't that many places there is an actual traffic light controlled horse crossing. We were too far away to get a pic but a bit further down the road we were stopped by more thoroughbreds. I bet someone will tell me whose stable it is!

That's horsepower for you!
I was meant to wait 45 mins at Cambridge for the Peterborough bus, but then realised I could get an earlier one to Huntiington Station, do some anoraking I mean train watching for half hour then carry on to Peterborough. So I boarded Stagecoach Scania E400 15212 YN15 KHJ, settled into the sumptuous leather seats, put my phone on charged and got ready for my favourite 16 miles of bus travel - the Cambridge Busway.

Stagecoach 15212 at Cambridge Bus Station
I say this every time - if you haven't been on the Busway you must. It is just brilliant, and pretty much unique. Why there aren't more old rail lines being converted into busways beats me. There is a big debate on beating congestion which is affecting bus travel. Well look at this pic - no congestion here and plenty of disused railways around. So stop whinging and get building. Claim it's more for the cycle paths than buses and people will be queuing up to pay for it!

No congestion here!
This E400 was perfect too, and notably neither of them had noisy, intrusive air chill systems. Instead they have windows that open. How many days a year is air chill actually needed in this country! Anyway a pleasant hour later and I was at Huntington Station and met with a surprise. There was a model rail exhibition nearby (holds crucifix up) and free transport was being provided by this grand old girl - a Bristol LWL GJB 254

Bristol LWL GJB 254
A productive half hour on Huntington Station, of which more later and it was back on the bus to Peterborough. Another attractive route, including the bizarre sight of a Baptist Church with a full size jet fighter on a plinth outside. Ok that might have more to do with the RAF Base next door but still looks good! We arrived at Peterborough spot on time which gave time for lunch before heading for the station. More good spots including a couple of beauties. Virgin Trains East Coast aren't slow to give their Class 91's a decent wrap and I saw two of the best - most of all 9110 Battle of Britain.

91110 Battle of Britain
Next up was the Flying Scotsman. No not that one but Virgin's modern version, 91101, which had arrived from that well known Scottish town, erm, Leeds!

91101 flying Scotsman
Here are all my VTEC videos from the day, taken at Huntington and Peterborough including some very fast HST's, a closer view of Battle of Britain, and one of the ex Thameslink Electrostars now with Great Northern.

Then it was time for the main event. Just after 1400 the football charter came in. Led by 47815 we were expecting it to stop but instead it slowed right down then accelerated away, giving us cameramen, and there were a few quite a sight and sound. The impressive 37884 brought up the rear. Here are the stills and the full video.

A smoking 47815
37884 at the rear

An extremely worthwhile trip. The return journey was uneventful and punctual, even if the two E400's weren't quite as immaculate as the earlier examples. However both were still better than most others I've been on so being churlish. Stagecoach deserve huge praise for their maintenance regime and giving me something nice to say for once!

A project for the future is to return to Cambridge and spend the day on the new P&R buses. Stagecoach have some new E400 MMC's and they look amazing. Here are just three of the colours, well four if you include the Orange in the background, but there were at least two more I didn't manage to get. I shall return!

And this is my favourite - I think this colour looks brilliant on the MMC

Hopefully when I go back it will be a bit brighter which should show up the colours even more.

At this point I was going to comment on fares and compare them to others but that can wait for the next post. A good day, mission accomplished and some very pleasant surprises. Still can't get over that first E400........


  1. In re Cambridge Busway - right on, man!! IMHO it cannot be beaten, and ought to show the way forward in so many cases.
    Just one (supporting) point . . . . the critics (who STILL want the corridor reopened to trains) always overlook the level of service offered . . . . ISTR that the rail re-opening would offer one two-coach train each hour (capacity say 200 crush loaded) . . . . the Busway service (in the peaks) is 17 BPH or thereabouts (capacity well north of 1100 with all seats taken and no standees). This routing isn't yet at capacity (in theory probably 60 BPH could be achieved).
    Is there to be an extension to Cambridge North Station? If not; that might be a good idea!!

    1. Glad I'm not the only one thinking that! While we are at it make all bus lanes guided so no other vehicles can drive and especially park in them. If you want cars off the road you have to be radical.

    2. As ever in the UK the problem with guided busways is the cost. And the drivers that can't read road signs and end up on them. The Cambridge one still has construction faults. It took over ten years to bring it about too. Luton and Dunstable though did it in less. But look at the public transport around the Busway, and it bears comparison with Suffolk.

      So yep we do build them where they're appropriate. Not everywhere. In nid-Essex we had a choice between a busway and a new rail station to serve new housing development. When a rail station costs north of £20m and takes twenty years, it's a long wait for everything. (The associated passing loop on the Great Eastern line though might have its uses, perhaps?) A busway too is justified by the commuters, so which would have been better? Still we bung the buses a few mill. small change in the meantime, adding to the congestion, as we know.

      Transport, much as we'd like it to, doesn't exist in a vacuum. It's part of overall land use planning. Cambridge has the Greater Cambridge outfit, planning for jobs, housing and transport in an integrated way, and by golly that causes enough controversy. (Ever heard of the West Cambridge busway - no, you won't if the residents have their way. Before we even get to East Cambridge, where we've just discovered the traffic data is ten years out of date, already). The rest of us don't. When as so often the south east and East Anglia is covered by glorified housing estates the mass movement to justify this sort of investment is London commuting, and local buses hardly get a look in. Welcome to reality. Or in Ipswich, how does it compete with the wet dock crossing? Or the NNDR in Norwich? Investment is always an either/or. Unfortunately. Not in our dreams, though!

    3. Make all bus lanes guided? Brilliant idea. It'd get rid of most bus lanes where it's physically impractical, spend the transport budget, and the modifications to the buses make them even more unviable than they are at the moment. Since getting your own motor, have you morphed into a car fanatic? You'll be advocating the abolition of buses next!!! It'd make a lot of motorists very happy.

  2. A quick perdantic point is that of the two class 91s you pointed out, Battle of Britain was an East Coast job whist Flying Scotsman was an update of an East Coast livery.

    Re greenline727 - yes the a branch of the busway is under construction to link to North Station

    1. An even more pedantic point is you spelt pedantic wrong :D

  3. Andrew Kleissner13 March 2017 at 13:31

    Re. the P&R buses ... in the old fleet there was (at least) one bus which could be allocated to any of the routes. It had P&R branding but was of a "nondescript" colour. Have they done the same with the new fleet?

    1. Absolutely no idea, Andrew. Hopefully someone can tell us.

    2. Yes. There are two, they're grey (like the old ones).

      "Your usual colourful bus is being serviced today. This one's the same, just not so colourful."

      You also missed the blue Trumpington ones - not surprising, they stop around the corner from the others, by the side of John Lewis.

    3. thought I saw a grey one! Hoping to do the lot next Saturday

    4. Andrew Kleissner18 March 2017 at 23:42

      I've just realised that the routes have changed. I haven't checked them all - but the Newmarket and Madingley routes used to be a single cross-city service, now they are separate with a little loop round the city centre. Presumably this is to improve reliability?

  4. It's not the first time I've been a car driver - indeed there was a tie I was a bus driver and car driver at the same time!

    I am well aware there is not a bottomless pit of money unless you're an MP, but at the same time there are thousands being spent on so called "Congestion Summits" where bus operators are bleating that congestion is the biggest threat to services. As with all problem solving even silly ideas need to be considered. Instead of whinging about it do something.

    Busways are cheaper than Tramways - put them in the middle of the road like trams are all over Europe and it won't impact on deliveries to shops etc. All too often we have your can't be done/cost too much/no room/no enthusiasm attitude and so nothing gets done but the whinging continues. So now it's time to stop the rhetoric and do something about it. Because if we don't it will be the end of the bus anyway as towns will be so gridlocked it will be quicker to walk or sleep in your self driving car.

    1. I actually agree with you! You're a bit out of date though, it is already most of the time quicker to walk into town, and has been for years. I found that 20 years ago, and things haven't improved! Cambridge is actually a prime example. Next time try the P&R (and make sure to go to the town terminus) on a weekday!!! And the recently quoted stat locally is that 60% of journeys of under 3 miles into the town centre are made by car!! I suspect the rest walk or even cycle. Prime candidates for public transport I'd have thought? Well, hoped.

      I just disagree that there is a magic wand. I think it's cumulative little things that make a difference. If there is any golden rule it's not taking the problem and making it worse. Adapt bus routes and practices to minimise, not magnify, the impact of congestion. (Constant tinkering with timetables doesn't count, I fear. Not any at rate for the unpredictable congestion, which is where we're at. Nor, I suspect does adding even more, and endless, roadworks into the mix, or charging higher fares to compensate for the lower patronage due to unreliability). The difficulty is that some people will be inconvenienced or upset at any change. Sadly, we can't make an omlette without breaking a few eggs.