12 February 2018

To Re-Nationalise or Not

A very pertinent piece in last Sunday’s Observer caught my eye. Its business leader made the point that profit isn’t seen as a natural bedfellow with the railway as there are a ‘carriageload’ of other considerations that need to be dealt with first – safety, punctuality and affordability to name but three.

Only after running safe, punctual and affordable services will passengers sit comfortably with the operator making profit. And since the government and Network Rail, its nationalised infraco, tie operators’ hands on the ability to run punctual trains or to offer fares that are very subjectively affordable, there are few scenarios when passengers will see an operator worthy of profit.

The Observer suggested that an operator shunning its financial risk would frustrate this delicate balancing act further; and with Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) set to ‘hand back the keys’ during 2018, government should understand the reasons for the latest default on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) franchise.

The latest edition of the LEYTR has a piece in which a little sympathy is afforded to VTEC. The Stagecoach/Virgin bid was based on certain infrastructure improvements along the route of the Flying Scotsman during the franchise tenure, which will now happen at a later date. Since Network Rail is responsible for improving track and signals, the government ultimately moved the goal posts and VTEC felt it had to renegotiate the franchise specification.

Yet closer scrutiny of the East Coast Main Line franchise document makes it clear that these infrastructure improvements – including a grade-seperated junction at Werrington and the doubling of track between Peterborough and Huntingdon – were only assumed to be undertaken during the tenure of the franchise.

The government bares some blame here since it was happy to allow Stagecoach/Virgin to bid on these assumptions. In fact, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has admitted there was a culture of overbidding for franchises, which his department tacitly encouraged. Not any more they don't.

Regardless, VTEC’s bid for the ECML franchise can no longer be delivered under the specification that it was awarded. This is failure. By being allowed to effectively walk away from its contractual obligations – and with franchise bids costing in excess of £5 million to put together they are legally water-tight – a private firm is shunning its financial risk, thus shoving two fingers up at the industry and ergo its passengers.

Reading between the lines, however, would suggest that the government is aware that it is partially culpable, hence the announcement of its awarding a second direct award to the incumbent Virgin/Stagecoach partnership to operate the West Coast Main Line franchise on the same day that it announced the East Coast equivalent’s winding up. And allowing Stagecoach to reach the final round in bidding for the East Midlands franchise.

VTEC has agreed to pay the government £3.3 billion over the life of its franchise and terminating early with the government’s blessing means that around £2 billion won’t now be received (after considering the cash VTEC has paid the government to date). Fining Stagecoach Group and Virgin would be the obvious choice, though, again, since the government is aware of its culpability in this sorry story would no doubt see it end up in court. These private firms have a habit of defending their financial interests and their ‘experts’ tend to be more competent than the government’s - something which Virgin has shown it has become quite eloquent at.

So there will be no fine just lots of statements confirming that VTEC has paid every penny is has been obliged to. Yet while around £2 billion is outstanding, this hasn’t been ‘lost’. If a new franchisee is awarded, their contract would see immediate repayments to the government. If the government chooses to release its nationalised option – Directly Operated Railways – to operate the ECML franchise for the second time in under 5 years, this too would see a financial gain in the form of a not-for-profit franchise the government would be propping up, where all/any profit would be retained. 

The problem is that VTEC’s repayments were ‘end-loaded’, so the level of growth was estimated as peaking towards the end of the franchise and so too were their repayments. Any new franchisee would play it much safer and would not offer such a large sum of money from the first two years or so of its franchise.

I’ll end with an observation that seems to have passed by the specialist railway media. They cannot fathom how the educated and informed passenger at large can be hoodwinked by this urge to nationalise. They cite statistic after statistic aiming to show how much better the privatised railway is when compared with the nationalised British Railways. 

The answer is, I believe, straightforward.

Similar to how large areas of the UK voted for Brexit when it could be demonstrated that they’d benefitted the most from EU-funded schemes, passengers are simply fed up and do not care anymore. They want to take control of their services, even though they know that this is a relatively meaningless statement. Passengers are now so repulsed at their train operator making a profit – a view only enhanced by the VTEC saga – that they would be happy for the government to run the trains on their behalf, happier that any profitability would likely be ploughed back into the industry.

Yes, their service may not operate with the same level of finesse as now and yes, their train may become painted in ‘dealership white’. They do not care. Not in the slightest.

Much was made of Michael Gove’s comments during the Brexit referendum campaign when he suggested people do not trust experts any more. I fear the privatised railway is now at a point where passengers just don’t trust their franchised operator at all and feel impotent and so have no option other than to turn to re-nationalisation as the best option.

Yes the sandwiches may deteriorate in quality and punctuality may flat-line, but at least no-one would be making any profit at the same time.

23 January 2018

Are Exact Fares More Acceptable?

Over the years many bus operators have trialled exact fare services. The premise is straightforward enough: passengers who wish to pay cash to travel do so using the correct fare for their journey. They drop this into a ‘hopper’ and a printed ticket then presents itself, which the passenger takes and retains for their journey.

Operators cite reduced dwell times and better punctuality as a consequence of exact fares, as passengers tend to better research their fare and ensure this is then paid exactly. Problems occur for those who do not – be they infrequent users or tourists – as this causes delays and can see a passenger have to part with more cash for their fare than they need to, which often results in resentment.

Are exact fare services more acceptable today than, say, 10 years ago?

Two prominent bus operators continue to offer exact fare services. Lothian Buses and Nottingham City Transport. Both operators have a multitude of goblets, trinkets and silverware in their respective trophy cabinets. They are seen as progressive, forward-thinking, environmentally conscious operators, who commit large sums of money into ‘green’ travel and to offer a genuine alternative to the car.

Neither operator appears to be adversely affected by their exact fare policy. There are exceptions within each operator, where certain services/brands permit change to be offered, but on the whole these operators are wholesale purveyors of ‘exact-fare only, please!’ bus services.

How do they both manage to pull off something that their competitors have often used against them?

Publicity by First in years gone by (competing with Lothian) showed how their buses were ‘more convenient’ as they offered change, while Trent Barton (competing with Nottingham City Transport) makes very clear in its publicity that its drivers offer change.

Both Lothian Buses and Nottingham City Transport provide high-frequency urban services and carrying millions of passengers a year. They benefit from economies of scale that other operators do not and can therefore afford to offer very competitive bus fares. Their range of tickets is reduced compared to other operators locally, with singles and day tickets being the staple diet.

Those travelling regularly over longer periods of time can benefit from week, month, quarterly and even annual tickets, affording their holders unlimited hop-on, hop-off travel for extended periods.

This they do with no need to offer an exact fare to the driver.

Both operators are keen to offer and maintain travel shops – Lothian Buses especially, who has many dotted in and around Edinburgh. Sales of unlimited travel tickets are high here, where staff can offer further assistance and information, not to mention those lesser-spotted timetables and network route maps. Not everyone has access to the Internet or, indeed, wants to have to print out their own timetables at home!

Nottingham City Transport’s Easyrider ticket, once purchased, can then be topped-up by direct debit. The holder need worry no more about ensuring they have sufficient credit loaded onto the card, provided they have sufficient funds in their linked account.

These travel options, along with the use of the Scottish/English National Concessionary Travel Pass (‘free over-60s bus pass’) has seen a marked reduction in the number of passengers actually needing to pay cash. What few fall into this category are catered for with simplistically-priced single and day fares, generally seeing their cost being to the nearest pound.

In years to come and with the advent of technology (which is already with us, though not yet used widely on public transport due to ‘back office’ issues) passengers will be able to pay by debit or credit card as they board. They would have no need to link their card to an operator’s specific brand of travel card; they could also benefit if travelling in a progressive local authority’s area by using the same card for multi-mode journeys that are automatically capped, as TfL has succeeded in achieving in London.

There will always be a place in society for cash. There will always be a need – latent or otherwise – to pay by cash to travel on public transport. This is something bus operators readily accept and indeed have to offer. Lothian Buses and Nottingham City Transport, through historic decisions made concerning the type of cash collection method they wanted to employ, have effectively been ahead of the curve when it comes to offering alternative payment methods to cash. They’ve had to be to prevent damage to their carefully cultivated brands. Other operators are playing catch-up.

Not all operators are as enamoured with exact fare systems, however. When Go-Ahead Group’s Go South Coast bought Thamesdown from the local authority in Swindon, it chose to end that operator’s association with exact fares in spring 2017. Go South Coast said they felt passengers would let its buses go by and flag down a competitor’s for the convenience of being able to receive change.

You may wonder how some bus operators are legally able to not offer change, yet as consumers we are never told when purchasing an item from a brand of WH Smith, for example, that their cashier is no longer permitted to give change. The answer is that change does not have to be offered if, at the time of purchase, credit does not exist.

What does this mean exactly? In Tesco, we pay for our goods at a check out. This is seen as the consumer being in credit since we have acquired the items in our basket or trolley as we’ve perused the aisles and will pay for them later. Bus travel is of course not like that. Payment is made before travel is undertaken, ergo credit does not exist.

Technicalities aside, not offering change is no longer seen as a negativity on the same scale as years gone by. The ever-changing payment methods has ensured that fewer and fewer passengers pay cash, and those that do now have a more simplified fares and ticket structure from which to choose. Add in all those travelling free with an over-60s bus pass and the chances of Nottingham and Lothian opting to ditch their exact fare systems is more unlikely than ever.

06 June 2017

A very wet Monsal Trail

We Brits are known the world over for being a hardy bunch, while being a little eccentric and taking most things in our stride. It was this thought that kept me going as I walked 8 miles in the pouring rain yesterday - for fun.

I'd recently discovered that it is now possible to walk 8.5 miles along the trackbed of the former Monsal Line through stunning Peak District scenery. The line was closed in 1968 by Labour's Barbara Castle (and not Beeching) and since 1981 it has been used by cyclists and walkers alike, offering a little bit of calm in an otherwise bustling county. There had always been one drawback, however: the three tunnels that punctured the route being inaccessible to everyone, resulting in lengthy, arduous 'diversions', a number of which were unsuitable for cyclists and families with buggies and young children.

That all changed on 13 May 2011, when the Peak District National Park re-opened the three tunnels along the route - Litton, Cressbrook and Headstone - making the route now fully accessible and relatively unique. It is now possible to walk or cycle from Millers Dale to Bakewell. The re-opening occurred following a campaign, assisted in part by Julia Bradbury's TV Railway Walks: The Peak Express programme, and £3.785 million was spent, some coming from the DfT to re-open these tunnels and to establish a through route once again.

I'd planned a visit to the Monsal Line - which has become known as the Monsal Trail since it reopened in 1981 - and frustratingly my only 'window' was a day with persistent, heavy rainfall forecast. Still, we Brits are a hardy bunch etc...

I travelled to Millers Dale - the most northern point for my walk, though not the most northern point of the trail (Chee Dale) - aboard one of G&J Holmes Coaches' short wheelbase Enviro200s in 'dealership white', working the 1230 Service 66 from Chesterfield station to Buxton. Equipped with a mandatory Derbyshire Wayfarer, 1230 came and went and I was the only one stood at the rail station bus stop so at 1236 I called the company to ask if there was a problem and was reassured that the bus was on its way and was just a little late. Two minutes later it arrived and I was the sole occupant until the centre of Chesterfield where 15 others boarded. No-one paid cash, there being a mix of concessionary bus pass holders and students with pre-paid college passes.

Service 66 can trace its roots back to NBC days when the X67 'LincMan' operated from Lincoln to Manchester via Mansfield and the first part of the existing 66 route before heading beyond Tideswell to Manchester. East Midland was the operator of the route (with some assistance from Lincolnshire Road Car), though following the lengthy route's demise and privatisation, Whites of Calver was successful in operating what we now know as the 66, passing to Stagecoach in 1995 (following the purchase of Chesterfield Transport), then onto TM Travel, following Stagecoach's retrenchment in the mid-noughties and from October 2013 G&J Holmes has been operating the route. The route is being re-tendered this October.

Soon out of Chesterfield the route makes a steady climb before dropping into Baslow, thence to Calver Sough (passing the site of the former Whites depot (now a petrol station) on the right, before heading through Eyam - famous for the Black Death - and Foolow, before negotiating the quaint and picturesque Great Hucklow and onto Tideswell. From Calver Sough, Service 65 (to/from Sheffield) operates the same route, though at alternate hours; with both services operating two-hourly, the frequency between Calver Sough and Buxton becomes a clockface, hourly one. Connections can be made at Tideswell onto the two-hourly Service 173 to either Castleton or Bakewell.

After Tideswell, we deviated from the main road to Litton, making a reverse move into a side road, and then retracing our steps. I alighted in rainfall so bad that it looked as though it was dusk. Millers Dale is in a natural valley with steep mountains either sides and while this reduced the strong wind blowing the rain underneath my trusty umbrella, it still didn't detract from with wild look to an otherwise picturesque locality!

G&J Holmes MX59 AVN Enviro200 departs Millers Dale in the pouring rain

The walk to the former station at Millers Dale is up quite a steep footpath, at the top of which the wind became more noticeable. Part of the former station comprises toilets and information boards, which were a welcome sight, if only to stock up on tissue for my glasses. And so, at 1355, I started my walk towards Bakewell. Immediately, you cross one of two impressive viaducts. One is closed to the public and from the top of the other, you can't quite appreciate how spectacular they both are. For this you'd need to head to the main road in the middle of Millers Dale.

Millers Dale station, the starting point for my walk to Bakewell

Only the western viaduct can be used and while it looks a little innocuous from the top, the views below are considerably more spectacular

Looking down from the western viaduct, a car can just be made out amidst the foliage

Once across, the route takes on a very slight incline and becomes a little less spectacular, interspersed with gaps in the foliage to see the neighbouring mountains. Cloud was low on my visit and the rain was coming down heavily. I stopped once under a tree, which while it was dripping, was doing less so than had I stood away from it. Pushing on after a few minutes, I met with a German chap who'd opted to stand under a footbridge and read a few pages of his book. I, naturally, pushed on, and as soon as I caught sight of the first tunnel, the rain started to subside. Typical.

This is the generic tunnel warning sign, displayed before each tunnel

Litton Tunnel is the first of three between here and Bakewell, all of which are now open to the public. Hitherto, walkers would have to climb the not inconsiderable mountain immediately to the left of the tunnel entrance, in order to continue. Naturally this was the end of the line for cyclists! Now, we can just plough on through the tunnel - taking note of the signs telling us not to touch the sides! - and come out the other end.

From 1981 to 2011, when the tunnels were closed, walkers would leave the Monsal Trail here at Litton Tunnel and head up the steep incline to the left, around the mountain

One of the most dramatic sections of the line has been inaccessible despite being outside a tunnel. This is the very short section between tunnels - where Litton Tunnel ends and immediately before Cressbrook Tunnel starts. A slight bend in the line, overlooking spectacular scenery - even on a day like today - made this short section somewhere I chose to stop and have my lunch, despite it being devoid of seating.

My favourite part of the walk is this short section between Litton Tunnel and Cressbrook Tunnel, previously inaccessible until the tunnels were reopened in 2011

Cressbrook Tunnel certainly looked more dramatic as the huge mountain through which it passes was more noticeable than Litton Tunnel. Lighting in the tunnels was minimal though effective enough and a tarmac 'road' has been laid through the middle of each for cyclists and walkers and to the east side of all tunnels a slab of walkway has been built enabling segregation for walkers, on days when there are plenty of cyclists and you don't fancy taking your chances. Tunnel lighting is turned off around dusk, making the tunnels particularly eerie at night time as there seemed to be no obvious manner in which National Park Wardens could seal them off each night.

Some work, although not a lot, has been done to sections of the tunnel walls, though walkers and cyclists are told not to touch the sides. The tarmac central 'road' can be seen and the small pedestrian 'path' to the right of the photo. A testament to the Victorians is that very little water was noted dripping through the tunnel roofs

Having emerged from Cressbrook Tunnel, the footpath walkers would use who had to leave the route at Litton Tunnel joined the trackbed again. Again, the views towards Cressbrook were very impressive, with the Cressbrook Mill standing out in the foreground. Cressbrook, incidentally, is home to a rather spectacular bus 'move' - negotiating the hairpin bend to the east of the village. Service 173 (Bakewell - Tideswell - Buxton) diverts here three times a day (once am/pm for school children and a middle of the day journey for shoppers to reach Bakewell) and while current incumbent Hulleys of Baslow uses short wheelbase Darts and Optare Solos, this wasn't always the case. Hulleys used to regularly use Leyland Lynxes and before that Stagecoach used Alexander PS-bodied Volvo B10Ms and Alexander P-bodied Leyland Tigers. The move with a full-size bus can't be undertaken in one go, and so a three-point shunt in the midst of the hairpin bend is required, often with a scraping sound of bodywork on the adverse camber of the road.

Cressbrook Tunnel looking north, in the pouring rain

A view of Cressbrook Mill. The wooden fence is the gate where the footpath from the north side of Litton Tunnel rejoins the Monsal Train. The reopening of the tunnels has meant this lengthy detour is no longer necessary

Back to the walk and there was more tree-lined route ahead before this gave way to the picture-postcard section of the line: Monsal Head. Here, Headstone Viaduct stands majestically across the Monsal Valley before heading straight into Headstone Tunnel. John Ruskin protested at the time the line and viaduct were being built, writing "The valley is gone – and now every fool in Buxton can be in Bakewell in half an hour and every fool at Bakewell in Buxton." Access to this viaduct from the road is via a million or so steps down from a visitor centre and pub - a trek I made on a number of occasions as a kid with my parents. Back then, all there was of note was the viaduct and a closed, locked, boarded-up, impenetrable tunnel. Now, however, I stood on Headstone Viaduct all alone in the pouring rain - I'd only ever been here when it was packed - and a fully open, accessible tunnel.

Headstone Viaduct is more iconic when looked at from afar than when stood atop. Had the weather been less inclement I may have been more inclined to ascend the mountain and photograph the viaduct nestled in the valley, which is the picture-postcard shot many who visit capture. Amidst all the greenery in the distance is Headstone Tunnel

Using my phone I attempted a panorama shot looking west along the valley from the tunnel to the opposite side of the viaduct.

A panorama shot of Headsman Viaduct, looking west. Click for an enlargement

I should mention that at this point I'd seen just 3 people. I now headed into Headstone Tunnel and soon heard some screaming - not what I'd been expecting - as a school party of children using bikes came hurtling through, accompanied rather loosely by appropriate adults. Headstone Tunnel was noticeably colder inside than the other two. Very much so. Once out the other side, the 'interesting' and more spectacular elements of the Monsal Trail had now gone; the remainder of the route to Bakewell was of more traditional rolling countryside, which made time pass a little slower to pass and the remainder of the journey take a little longer than it actually did.

I passed through the former Longstone station and passed Hassop station - now a designer outlet-type place and onto the former Bakewell station before arriving at the end of the route: Coombs Road Viaduct. My journey today both started and ended at viaducts. In the rain. Although I'd clocked up around 8 miles, and was feeling a little weary, I still felt frustrated that I could go no further, especially when I knew the trackbed was in tact almost all of the way to the Peak Rail track and stations at Rowsley and Darley Dale. Rowsley, incidentally, is the main problem; the trackbed has been built on and crossing the A6 trunk road is likely to be very costly with the need for a new, realigned railway and bridge. Thereafter, of course, heavy rail continues to use the line in the form of the Derwent Valley Line from Matlock to Ambergate Junction.

Longstone Station

And there ended my railway walk, along the former trackbed of the Midland Railway. It was now 1635 and I found myself in the Original Bakewell Pudding Shop purchasing a medium-sized pudding. The rain was still falling and so I had to endure the bus shelter in Bakewell Square that smelled of urine, to devour the very tasty pudding, the recipe for which was invented by accident around 1860.

Hulleys of Baslow's Optare Solo MX09 AOF is seen here in Bakewell Square before departure to Matlock at 1715

I had intended to return home using Trent Barton's 6.1 to Matlock, though completing the walk a little faster than I'd planned meant I could take the more scenic Service 172 at 1715 to Matlock via Youlgreave, Birchover and Elton. Again, time was Hulleys would use Lynxes and in the evening Stagecoach would use PS-bodied Volvo B10Ms along roads that our Optare Solo struggled to negotiate at times. I was the only passenger on board as we entered Elton, and following the reverse move into a side road (as per the same at Litton earlier on), we gained a passenger in the form of political pundit, author, former West Derbyshire Conservative MP and former Times sketchwriter, Matthew Parris. He was catching the train from Matlock, whereas I was headed to Chesterfield aboard the 1815 Stagecoach Gold-branded Service X17, bound for Sheffield.

Since the opening of Matlock's relief road, the town has a rather pointless two bus stations. Some buses, such as Stagecoach's X17, continue to use the old bus station, while others use the new one, by the rail station; some even use both; some use Bakewell Road and neither bus station. It is a confusing mess for those with connections and who aren't particularly familiar with the town. Seen here is Stagecoach in Chesterfield's Scania/Enviro400 Gold-standard 15192 (YN64 OAC)

This was what you'd call a 'spirited' run, flying out of Matlock and up Lime Tree Hill. This Enviro400-bodied Scania had plenty of go in it. We hurtled along the A617 and ended up sitting at Kelstedge for a few minutes as we were early. Why the driver couldn't have travelled a little slower once we were clear of the centre of Matlock is a mystery.

I had a few minutes in Chesterfield before catching Trent Barton's 'the comet'. This is the route of the former Red Arrow extension north of Derby. We departed Chesterfield at 1855 and I was the only one on board. All traffic lights were in our favour and the next stop announcements gave the impression the service calls at limited stops to Clay Cross. Still with no-one on board we flew through Clay Cross and onto Alfreton where 4 passengers boarded. We left Alfreton bus station immediately and headed to Ripley where the driver turned the engine off. I'd assumed he had adopted the driving style of my last bus driver, but looking at the timetable showed we had just one minute to wait in Ripley, which made me wonder just how late we'd be if people actually used the service and we had to stop at the occasional red traffic light!

Trent Barton prefer individual route branding to generic route numbers and The Comet is one such example, operating half-hourly between Derby and Chesterfield using Volvo B7RLEs with Wrightbus Eclipse Urban bodies in a special black livery; 747 (FJ09 XPF) is seen here in Chesterfield New Beetwell Street

After Kilburn we were non-stop into Derby along the A38 and our driver chose to use a platform in Derby bus station specifically signed for use by National Express only, complete with additional, strongly-worded signage by NX affixed to the end of each bay. My final bus of the day was Service 1 operated by Yourbus, which departed at 1955. Plenty of people have strong, polarising views of Yourbus and the background of its management; I'm a massive fan of the type of single-decker they've chosen to standardise on: the Mercedes-Benz Citaro. For me, as a passenger, they have everything you would want. Comfortable inside, decent leg room, wide, open aisles and a decent, meaty-sounding engine. Other people wholeheartedly disagree, of course.

The day ended as it started, photographing a bus heading off into the distance having dropped me off in heavy rain. Seen here is Yourbus BD64 NCN, a Mercedes-Benz Citaro, leaving Derby rail station bound for Alvaston - a route they operate in competition with Arriva

At Derby station I alighted and caught the 2008 CrossCountry train to Nottingham, with a senior conductor who did his announcements at the same speed as the American chap who auctions off random items in garages in the USA TV programme Storage Hunters!

08 February 2017

Riding the new e320/374

M'colleague and I chanced upon a last minute trip to Paris and back, travelling on one of Eurostar's new e320 sets. These new Siemens Valaro variants are 400m long, seat 902 passengers in sixteen coaches with an electric loco at each end. They're categorised in the UK as Class 374s and replace the now ageing e300s, or Class 373s - a number of which have traversed the metals through the LEYTR area in times past when they operated on loan to GNER, running services between London King's Cross and Leeds.

The '374s' started being rolled out from November 2015 and from our observations from travelling recently, they're now the majority traction type between London St. Pancras International and Paris Gare du Nord.

While I headed south to 'that London' from the LEYTR area - on board one of Hull Trains' Class 180 Adelantes, m'colleague headed to London from Ramsgate using one of Hitachi's Class 395 Javelins, operated by Southeastern which use the CTRL (Channel Tunnel Rail Link) or HS1 at it is more commonly known.

My trip from Grantham station was the first time in many, many years that I'd opted to travel with Hull Trains. It can be easier to travel with VTEC or Great Northern from Peterborough, though the promise of Grantham to London non-stop in around an hour was too much of a pull, especially on a day when we'd be touching 186mph (300k/h) on numerous occasions during the same day. The Hull Trains '180s' are wearing well, save the odd section of gaffer tape covering tears in the carpets here and there, and the leg room in Standard was more generous than I'd expected. The TV screens in each coach were working and showing, as advertised, the weather at the next stop (London), today's news headlines, progress along the route and onward connections from the next stop. With this being King's Cross, many of the connections were pointless and few would be travelling north from King's Cross, although the Underground service statuses were likely to be useful.

Hull Trains 180109 is seen upon arrival at London King's Cross, next to a VTEC Mk 4 DVT

Yet while my '180' (180109 - as featured on the cover of this year's LEYTR) had a top speed of 125mph and m'colleague's '395' an impressive 140mph (225k/h), I'd be averaging 91mph over the 105 miles from Grantham to London, whereas m'colleague would be averaging just 60mph over the 80 miles from Ramsgate to London - and this with a large percentage of his journey being along HS1. Yet drilling down shows the 'classic lines' section hampering overall average speed: the first 24 miles being on the 'classic' lines and with five stops, averaging 38mph, thereafter (from Ashford International) the pantograph was raised and the train ran non-stop to Stratford International (50 miles) at a whopping average of 107mph.

M'colleague benefits from being an employee of a TOC and is afforded a sizeable discount on international rail travel through a FIP card (issued to rail staff after one year's service). His return fare to Paris totalled £75, comprising Standard on the outward leg and Standard Premier on the return. The public walk-on fare for an equivalent ticket was £338. There are now three classes on Eurostar services - Standard (10 coaches), Standard Premier (3 coaches) and Business Premier (3 coaches). Complimentary food and drink are offered in both Premier classes, though the Business offering comes with menus designed by a Michelin Star-rated chef and unlimited hot drinks. Standard Premier affords travellers an airline-style tray of food, wine/beer, tea/coffee and water.

As a comparison to the £388 walk-on return fare, Skyscanner showed the cheapest London to Paris fare to be £120 for travel tomorrow. Public transport costs need to be added for airport transfers, of course, (an estimated £40 minimum) but even at a total of £160 this is considerably cheaper than Eurostar's walk-on fares. However, if you opt for Business Class on the plane then the walk-on fare increases to nearly £500. That was the cheapest and returns were from differing Parisian airports. A fully flexible non-discounted Eurostar Business Premier fare is £490 and includes a premium meal. I doubt whether a plane can offer that experience on a flight of such short duration.

Congestion in the Welewyn area saw my arrival in excess of 10 minutes late (an emergency speed restriction was also blamed for the delay) and having met m'colleague who was mid-conversation with the returning Hull Trains driver at the buffer stop of Platform 5 (it's a railway thing!) we headed next door to St. Pancras to check-in - a process that, in my opinion is flawless. The barcode on your ticket grants you access to the check-in hall, and after you've been through British Border Force for a passport check you're brought to the security hall and the obligatory airline-style baggage scanner. As m'colleague discovered, an Apple Watch will set off the manual detector, necessitating a full body rub down to make sure nothing was being sneaked through.

In a nod to the airlines, Business Premier passengers have their own departure lounge and complimentary food and drinks, while everyone else waited in the main waiting area, with plenty of exorbitantly-priced snack shops to spend your money in; £1.89 for a bottle of Buxton water, for example.

Eurostar's e320s are allocated a TOPS number 374 in the UK, though in reality the trains do not show this. Their set number is in the 4xxx series (the e300/373 set number is in the 3xxx series)

The departure platform was notified just ten minutes before departure and so there was something of a dash up the travelator to the platforms above. At St. Pancras International, platforms 1-4 are used by East Midlands Trains, 5-10 for Eurostar departures/arrivals, and 11-13 are utilised by Southeatern's High Speed domestic services. Beneath the station are platforms A and B which see Thameslink services calling, bringing passengers as far afield as Gatwick, making St. Pancras an ideal locality for international services - far easier to reach by so many different modes of transport than Waterloo is, which is where Eurostar services previously used as their London terminus.

Class 374 sets are built to European loading gauge standards - they are quite visibly larger than the '373s' they replaced - and can seat 150 more passengers than their predecessor. They are 16 vehicles in length compared with 20 of the Eurostar (18 coaches plus 2 power cars). Legroom at table seats in Standard was poor - the '374s' retain the narrow table with extendable sides, making the interiors seem a little more spacious than they probably are. That said, 'cramped' would be a little unfair, but the interior was certainly devoid of any embellishments.

Old meets new. The more pointed front of the '373' stands out against its younger counterpart. Those wishing to travel on these earl-1990 stalwarts should book for Brussels as the '374s' have yet to be introduced here. 4008 (left) was our chariot to Paris

Our 1224 departure was punctual (following an announcement in English and then French). The high speed line starts just 1km from St Pancras and Stratford came and went in a flash. We were soon slowing for our only stop at Ebbsfleet International to pick up more passengers. With the line speed now 186mph (300k/h) no more than 15 minutes was required to get to Ashford, soon after which we began slowing for the Channel Tunnel. There were no special announcements to tell us this was happening and entry into it was quite muted. We had slowed to around 50mph shortly before entry - we would be slotting in with Eurotunnel 'le shuttles', which are slower to accelerate and limited to 87mph (140k/h). Eurostars are permitted 99mph (160k/h) through the Tunnel, giving us a transit time of 20 minutes for the 50km long dive under the English Channel.

Interestingly, m'colleague's iPad was still recieving a decent signal from O2 inside the tunnel but his iPhone had no signal from Three. This brings me to the on board Wi-Fi. It is essentially poor, patchy at best.

Emerging from the Tunnel we could clearly see the huge loop for Eurotunnel trains diverging to our left and we were soon passing the little-used station of Calais Frethun. It was only then that we began to reaccelerate towards our maximum 186mph cruising speed. The line is relatively flat between Calais and Lille. There are a few climbs and dips and because of our speed these were quite noticable. Passengers walking through to the buffet car were holding on - its definitely not as smooth as travelling at 125mph on the ECML! We began slowing for our transit of Lille station which is underground and has a speed limit of 200kph. It is here where trains diverge towards Brussels. Once clear of the area we reaccelerated to our 186mph line speed but the line is noticably busier as we now share the tracks with services from Brussels, Thalys services from Amsterdam as well as domestic high speed services from Boulogne and Lille.

We were slowed to 'truck speed' with some way to go for some reason - I suspect a TGV called at one of the new intermediate stations on the line before we reaccelerated to high speed for around 5 minutes and then slowed for our transit on 'classic' lines for the 15km or so into Paris Gare du Nord. Unfortunately we were brought to a stand at Garches Sarcelles, which is around 13km out and this made our arrival around 10 minutes late. Trains stop particularly close to the buffers as a high-profile faux pas occurred when the '374s' were first tested: they were too long to be fully accommodated onto the platforms at Gare du Nord!

The arrival at Paris Gare du Nord is almost nondescript by comparison to St. Pancras, however it feels like a more traditional station, with plenty of hustle and bustle. Gare du Nord is also home to many other cross-boundary high speed services

Paris Gare du Nord station is undergoing extensive improve work but its platforms are dominated by TGV train sets but I did spot an older loco hauled and some of the new Z50000 EMUs operating suburban services which have a continious open gangway through the vehicles. With just 90 minutes before check-in for our return journey, we decided to get some Metro trips in. M'colleague purchased four tickets for just over 7 euro (single trip on the tube is over £4 and only in zone 1). We boarded Line 4's MP89 rubber-tyred Metro train as far as Chatelet Les Halles. From there we boarded a driverless Line 1 train to Gare de Lyon. Driverless trains are not a new phenomenon, of course. Docklands Light Railway are in essence driverless but they still retain a passenger service agent where Line 1's MP05 trains do not. There are platform edge doors at every station, similar to those on the Jubilee Line at Canary Wharf. It felt more like an airport transit shuttle than a proper metro train.

Photography deep underground is always a challenge when your subject matter is moving at speed and you've not got an expensive camera. Seen here in less than salubrious surroundings is an MP89 rubber-tyred train on Line 4 departing Chatalet Les Halles. While one-way tickets on the Paris Metro are unquestionably excellent value for money, the state of the underground stations and ticket halls is very poor when compared with the excellent work TfL and London Underground have done over the past decades

From Gare de Lyon we transferred onto RER Line A for one stop to experience a double-decked train MI2N back to Chatelet Les Halles. From there m'colleague (who has considerable more experience traversing Paris than me) was hoping we could do a brief sightseeing tour on the surface. He was wrong. Chatelet Les Halles is a maze. And it's deep underground - about 5 levels. It took us about 15 minutes to find the right exit and get to the surface. The idea was to walk on the surface from Les Halles to Chatelet but thanks to Google Maps being unable to make up its mind which walking route to take or even which way it was facing we had to resort to looking at a good old-fashioned map on a poster board to ascertain our exact location. This was not an ideal situation. After something of a dash along a couple of streets, we found Chatelet station and headed straight back on a slow Line 4 to Gare du Nord. I doubt our speed ever exceeded 40kph on the metro.

Eurostar check-in at Gare Du Nord is simply not fit for purpose. It feels shoddily put together with not enough seating and needs a major redesign. While St. Pancras benefitted from effectively bespoke design to accommodate international trains, Gare du Nord feels like Eurostar was accommodated as an afterthought and the cramped conditions almost a punishment for the UK for being exempt from the Shengen Zone.

Possibly the only advantage of the check-in facility at Gare du Nord over that at St. Pancras is that it is all done elevated and the views of the station below are an improvement of what feels like an hermetically-sealed box in London

We boarded our train at 1800, for an 1813 departure and what a difference! Standard and Business Premier coaches share the same seating arrangements, which are 2+1. Each seat has a plug socket and the Wi-Fi works much better. Shortly after departure, we were being served a snack, a roll and butter followed by either salmon or quiche with salad and a crepe for desert. Wine was offered, which we gladly accepted and after that tea or coffee followed. There were also little chocolates. The whole experience was so much more pleasant than being crammed into the Standard class seating.

Now it was dark outside, the return journey was considerably more nondescript than the outward one. The onboard Wi-Fi showed our train's exact location and the speed we were currently travelling at. Normal GPS devises don't work on the '374s', apparently due to a reflective coating applied to the windows, to reduce glare and heat.

Our chariot home (4011), upon arrival at St. Pancras

Our speed never exceeded 295kph, indicative of a cruise control device set at that speed. We slowed for Lille and once clear we reaccelerated towards Calais but this time our speed never went above 280kph. I wondered what the reason was - it became obvious later. We had a seemingly normal transit of the Channel Tunnel but after accelerating away towards Ashford we were slowed down to 50mph. I was able to check Realtime Trains which showed we had been running behind the Brussels service from Lille, explaining our driver's reluctance to run at full speed and that the Lille service was booked to make an Ashford stop. Acceleration was very swift once the train in front had got out the way - we spotted it at a stand in the platform and just 14 minutes later we were arriving at Ebbsfleet International. M'colleague chose to leave the train here, and head back to the coast using a '395', departing just four minutes later, apparently necessitating a light jog along the platform. He also had a  change of train at Ashford but was home for 2045.

The e320 is not in short supply at Gare du Nord. Note the proximity of the trains to the buffer stops. While there are two fewer coaches compared to their predecessor, trains are in fact longer, seat more passengers and initially failed to fit on the platforms at Gare du Nord

I, meanwhile, remained on the '374' to St. Pancras International and trundled across to King's Cross in the pouring rain. With my 2030 departure to Grantham being Hull Trains again (their last of the day and formed of 180111), spotting the correct platform before it was advertised was straightforward for obvious reasons. Also, the station was very quiet at this time, mid-week during the school term.

I opted for Coach A in the '180' again - the Quiet Coach, something a couple also for Grantham were seemingly unaware of, watching as they were clips of Kim Woodburn's interview on This Morning via YouTube. After plenty of passive non-aggression from passengers much nearer to them than me, and there being no change in attitude from the offending couple, I moved into the next coach up where it was ironically quieter. That said, the journey was as enjoyable as the outward one and with less padding in the timetable in this direction, my Adelante required to attain an average speed of 103mph to reach Grantham in 61 minutes.

The attentive service on board Hull Trains was in evidence for both my journeys, with the On Board Manager naming all staff on board. My first ever journey with them 12 years ago saw the guard even name the driver upon arrival at King's Cross. A genuine family feel was felt, although diminished somewhat through the FirstGroup branding and signage, but a very impressive standard is maintained nonetheless

We arrived 2 minutes late, possibly due to the driving rain, but nonetheless, this is one of the fastest was to travel between London and Grantham. An aspiration is to make the journey time 1 hour, but with the current capacity constraints of the ECML, this is not likely to be realised anytime soon. Well done to Hull Trains, however, for being consistently the fastest for travel between Grantham and London though!

In summary, the e320/Class 374 is a worthy successor to its predecessor. Fewer coaches but increased capacity, a much sleeker look both inside and out, and a decent offering in Standard Premier for a little more money. As with any long-distance rail travel, booking ahead is essential in receiving the best value fares, and this stands with Eurostar.

19 December 2016

A Year in Review: 2016

Welcome to the first blog post in over a year. Please accept our apologies for the blog effectively grinding to a halt. A concerted effort is being made to blog more frequently, as and when time permits. Though currently only the Editor will be offering his thoughts on transport news stories nationally.

Using the mobile application Timehop, I noted that a year ago, bookmaker Coral had to suspend its odds that the Queen would abdicate on Christmas Day, for fear that the public and Her Majesty knew something it didn't. There had been a large number of high value bets placed. With this kind of major news story (had it actually happened) coming at the worst time during the last half of December, spare a thought for all those print and TV editors hurriedly coupling together their Year In Review montages.

As motoring journalist, TV personality and cold meat supper-hater Jeremy Clarkson used to say: how hard can it be?

The LEYTR 2016 Year in Review


Pacers dominated the rail-related stories during the first quartile of 2016, with a push by the DfT to replace them at all costs during the next Northern franchise, which would be re-let (and awarded to DB's Arriva) from 1 April. The then-Transport Secretary had a publicised 'war of words' with his most senior civil servant over their replacement being essential despite not being the best value for money - the latter being a viewpoint most important to the government when re-letting franchises.

Barnetby's iconic semaphore signal gantries disappeared at the end of 2015, with this year seeing the resignalling of the North Lincs area, losing controlling signal boxes in favour of the York ROC.

Essential Fleet Services, the new owner of demand responsive transport (DRT) provider Kier, dropped a bomsbshell for Lincolnshire County Council in January when it announced it would be relinquishing all its CallConnect and home to school contracts from 1 April. This would prove an impossible logistical problem for LCC, who were unable to cover the majority of the contracts and were forced to establish their own in-house transport operator, Transport Connect, from 1 September, which took over operation of the affected CallConnect and home to school contracts. The irony here was that the business Essential originally purchased ultimately started out as an in-house, arms length transport operator run by LCC, TransLinc.


England's oldest independent bus operator Delaine Buses announced it had established a Heritage Trust and was in the process of building a museum at its Bourne depot, while LEYTR Treasurer Richard Belton's preserved ex-LRCC Bristol VR 1904, (JVL 619H) was immortalised as a die-cast model by EFE.

LEYTR also exclusively revealed that the planned £29 million Lincoln Transport Hub had been scaled back from the original plans revealed and effectively signed off. A lack of money was cited as the reason. A smaller bus station now no longer adjoined to the railway station and no footbridge link to a new car park on the other side the the railway line would go ahead from September - the first phase - with no guarantee a second and subsequent phase would go ahead.

Bus news dominated the start of the year with the much anticipated Buses Bill, which could effectively see a Conservative government giving local authorities the power to nationalise its bus services. We ran an article in the January/February edition looking at whether re-regulation was such a bad idea.


Industrial unrest at First TransPennine Express had plagued the operator's reliability figures during the second half of 2015 with drivers refusing to work overtime in an argument over management allegedly not sticking to local agreements reached with ASLEF. Though this was nothing compared to what was brewing at Southern.

£7.7 million awarded to LCC from central government effectively saved what few subsidised local bus services the county had. The plan was to effectively end virtually every subsidised bus route and an attempt to cover the gaps with CallConnect, which - importantly - would not be enlarged in size to cope with the likely increased demand.

Stagecoach East Midlands' Marie Curie Daffodil bus was launched during March. Painted a base yellow, donations could be made to have a personalised daffodil added to the exterior, with the proceeds going to Marie Curie. Uptake wasn't as fast as had been hoped (LEYTR has a daffodil on the bus, in conjunction with SKM) though the bus moved around all depots in the operating area and take-up soon increased.


Both FirstGroup and DB's Arriva were successful in being awarded the TPE and Northern franchises respectively and both companies were to invest eye-watering sums of money to bring their fleets up to scratch, most notably Northern, who would spend £1 billion during the franchise, £400 million on 98 new trains built by CAF in Spain.

Brylaine Travel were the first operator in the LEYTR area to introduce a bus tracking mobile application, making it possible to see where all their passenger service buses are at any moment in time and more specifically enabling passengers to see where their next bus is. While other, larger operators offer something similar (and on a technicality National Express was already offering something similar) the clarity, simplicity and intuitiveness of the Brylaine Travel app makes it stand head and shoulders above the rest. It's a shame that some operators still feel offering this level of information to its passengers is something they'd prefer to keep to themselves.


The Office of Rail & Road (ORR) dealt a blow to residents of North and North East Lincolnshire when it rejected Alliance Rail's plan to resurrect GNER and to operate trains direct to/from London. Even more frustrating, the business case to Scunthorpe, Grimsby and Cleethorpes was sound enough, just let down as GNER would run the trains attached to similar rolling stock for Bradford or Ilkley, and would split at Doncaster. Revenue extraction from the incumbent ECML franchisee, VTEC, would be too great on the Bradford/Ilkley runs and the service was turned down as a consequence. Financially, GNER was unable to operate the Cleethorpes-Grimsby-Scunthorpe-London service alone.

The Buses Bill was published on 20 May, which confirmed its objectors' fear that it could empower local authorities to grab the local bus businesses and franchise a wholly different network out - without offering any form of compensation to operators who lose their work. Locally, however, neither LCC nor the unitary authorities of North Lincs, North East Lincs, Hull City or East Riding of Yorkshire showed any desire to do so.

Barnards of Kirton Lindsey ceased trading on 10 May. The family firm had come full circle, having been sold to secretive Island Fortitude before being bought back by private operator AP Travel of Cowbridge.


This month marked half a century since the Seaton Flyer was withdrawn. Operating between Stamford and Seaton, this auto train, consisted of a tank engine and two or three non-corridor coaches operating in a push-pull formation. The Seaton Flyer (also referred to locally as the Seaton Rabbit) had the kudos of being the last steam-hauled push-pull service in Britain. We ran an extensive article looking back at the service, illustrated with photos from the time.

A turn of fortunes at Stagecoach East Midlands would see the much-vaunted bio-methane-converted Optare Solos - some of which dated back to RoadCar days - being stood down and sold, most passing to Reading Buses, who have had success with this method of propulsion. The conversions, while being technically feasible, saw major issues with acceleration and the money promised for a filling station at the Lincoln depot hadn't materialised.

Flying Scotsman made her first visit to North East Lincolnshire since refurbishment on 11 July, hauling the Tynesider. We were fortunate to have 'our man' at Grimsby to photograph the occasion.


TPE had agreed to sent is remaining four Class 170 Turbostars to Chiltern Railways this month - agreed prior to the new franchise commencing. This would see the company operating only Class 185s within the LEYTR area. To free up sufficient numbers, loco-hauled trains had to begin operation in Cumbria. The ex-TPE '170s' would become '168/2s' with Chiltern, following internal refurbishment.

A large number of ex-Chester Volvo B7TLs with Wrightbus Eclipse Urban bodies would be transferred to Stagecoach Grimsby-Cleethorpes from this month, replacing double-deckers sent elsewhere within the local operating group to help remove the last remaining step-entrance examples before the end of the year. We printed a photo of the first example to operate in Grimsby.


Grayscroft of Mabletherpe was in receipt of three ex-London Scania OmniDekkas and received the outstanding fourth this month. These were the first low-floor double-deckers operated by the company and look impressive in fleet colours.

An interesting observation made the local Lincoln press during the summer, when Facebook administrator Ashley Hill studied pedestrian behaviour at Lincoln's High Street level crossing, next to which Network Rail had spent £12 million building a footbridge for people to use following decades of complaints from the public and businesses. Yet Mr Hill analysis, following interviews with pedestrians, showed that people couldn't couldn't be bothered to use it. There were too many steps and the rake was too severe.


Lincoln's City Bus Station closed following the last departure on 3 September. It had been open for 38 years and 3 weeks. Originally built for Lincoln City Transport services, RoadCar had 'moved in' following its purchase of the municipal operator in the early-90s and following the closure of St. Marks bus station (the NBC-RoadCar facility) during the last-90s, it had been Lincoln's only bus terminal. Eighteen months of disruption to the city centre was now underway while Phase 1 of the Lincoln Transport Hub project was being built. A temporary bus station was opened on Tentecroft Street, coincidentally providing a much nicer environment for passengers than that of the City Bus Station.

Both East Riding of Yorkshire and Hull City councils were consulting on reducing spending on subsidised bus services. While EYRC's was so vast, covering the largest unitary authority area in the country, its findings are still to be made, but Hull City chose to effectively stop support for all services with the exception of three routes which would see their frequencies halve.

Vote Leave's battle bus - used extensively during the Brexit referendum campaign - on the side of which was written "We give £350 million to the EU every week. Let's fund the NHS instead" caused controversy soon after a vote to leave was made when the link between the £350 million and the NHS was removed. Vehicle owner Acklams Coaches of Beverley then hired the same Neoplan Starliner coach out to Greenpeace to act as their "time for truth" battle bus on the side of which is now written thousands of questions for Theresa May's administration to answer about Brexit.


This month marked the 50th anniversary of LEYTR subscriber Nigel Rhodes' preserved ex-GCT single-decker Daimler Fleetline, 35 (GEE 418D). We ran an in-depth article written by Mr. Rhodes on the decision he and his son took to 'rescue' the bus in a failed condition from a local sea cadet corps in 1986 and the years it took to bring the bus back to a near-original condition.

First Hull Trains announced it had placed an order with Hitachi for five new bi-mode trains in the form of the AT300, which will replace its fleet of Class 180 Adelantes in the coming years. A decision to invest £60 million towards the new trains was instead of part-funding the electrification of the line to Hull, east from Selby - notably omitted from Network Rail's long-term electrification plan for the north. While NR looked favourably on electrifying to Hull when Hull Trains was offering the lion's share of the funding, it soon decided against it when Hull Trains pulled out, after reportedly losing patience with the time NR was taking to make a decision.

North East Lincolnshire was revealed to have the UK's least competitive bus service on account of Stagecoach operating over 99% of passenger services. Yet despite media bluster, who stepped in during September when Amvale Coaches threw in the towel with its long-standing service to Saltfleet? Stagecoach. Who continues to operate similar service levels despite NELC subsidy reductions and cuts? Stagecoach. While many bemoan their lack of choice and accurately point out this was NOT what deregulation was supposed to have spawned, you sometimes have to be careful what you wish for.


East Midlands Trains released into traffic the first of its Class 158s to have been internally refurbished, as part of its direct award franchise extension. Fitted with free Wi-Fi, USB charing sockets, next stop announcements and compliant disabled-access toilets, it will take the franchisee two years to complete.

Fifteen brand-new ADL E40D Enviro400s entered service with Stagecoach in Hull - the largest investment Stagecoach has made in the city since it purchased Transit in 1995. Frustratingly, prior to entering service a number were loaned to Merseyside in an emergency.

EYMS celebrated its 90th anniversary during October and commemorated this auspicious occasion by painting one of its Wrightbus Eclipse Gemini-bodied Volvo B9TLs into a special livery that showcased the three different colour schemes (technically four with the middle section being different on the offside to the nearside). And very effective it looks, too.

£66,000 was ordered to be spent on putting Grimsby town centre's road network back to pre-December 2014 condition by North East Lincolnshire Council after its contractor - who had to foot the bill - had been unable to grips with continued defects with the 'crazy paving'. While the design saw both road and footpath look identical and theoretically beneficial in slowing down motorists as it makes them think about where the road is, pedestrians complained of not knowing where the footpath ended as a double-decker bus approached.


Delaine Buses revealed it plans to run one of the last step-entrance local bus services in the country when on New Year's Eve it will operate its only step-entrance double-decker, Volvo Olympian 116 (M1 OCT), in passenger service between Bourne and Peterborough. From 2017 all step-entrance vehicles, regardless of their size or shape, are outlawed when providing registered local bus services.

And into 2017...

Perhaps the most interesting news item during the coming year will be the specification for the East Midlands rail franchise. Held by Stagecoach's East Midlands Trains since 2007, the aspirations being considered by the DfT are all-encompassing. While the DfT seems to want to remove the status quo with the traditional crew operation of services at Southern (despite there being no financial saving in doing so), this is seen less likely to appear in the East Midlands specification. New routes and existing services to additional places are likely to be the headline. While transport secretary Chris Grayling is keen to see integration between operations and Network Rail, this could well be more a token gesture than a major change. And for passengers, the ability to travel direct between Lincoln and Birmingham or Grantham and Manchester Airport or to just be able to physically fit on the 1511 Peterborough to Lincoln service with the addition of an extra coach, are more likely to be addressed before anything else.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 

23 September 2015

From the September Archive

Turning back the clock, the following news stories were making the pages of the LEYTR in years past:

September 1985 - 30 years ago
27 September saw EYMS introduce a fleet of seven 16-seater Ford Transit/Dormabile M16 minibuses in Bridlington, and from the following day to Hornsea, operating under the East Yorkshire Little Bus name. Vehicles were 301-7 (C301-7 CRH).

30 September saw the end of loco-hauled services on the Cleethorpes - Newark route, as a consequence of there being insufficient electrically heated coaching stock. The 2-car DMUs that were the replacements struggled to cope with demand.

September 1990 - 25 years ago
The Great Northern & East Lincolnshire Railway Company was granted permission by the government to "make and maintain a standard gauge railway no longer than 10.5 miles" on 5 September, spurring the company on to launch an appeal for £100,000 to purchase and lay trackbed near Ludborough. The route would go on to be come the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway, operational today.

Also on 5 September, KHCT entered into service the first vehicles in its fleet that conformed to DiPTAC legislations. Scanias 809-16 (H809-16 WKH) came with low-step entrances, high visibility handrails, priority seating for the elderly and infirm and nearside route indication.

September 2000 - 15 years ago
The UK's first open access train operator, Hull Trains, ran its first services, linking Hull with London King's Cross and in competition of sorts with franchised operator GNER. Hull Trains began operation using 100mph Class 170 Turbostars ex-Anglia Trans. Ten years later (and under new ownership), during September 2010, First Hull Trains carried its 800,000th passenger, such was the appetite for direct travel between the UK's fifteenth largest city and the Capital.

September 2010 - 10 years ago
Zonal fares were introduced by Stagecoach in Hull. Just three fares were now charged, generally radiating out from the city centre.

11 September 2015

Ticking Boxes

As has been highlighted extensively in RAIL over recent months, the plight of both stations in Gainsborough is not good. If you thought that the three-trips-in-either-direction-on-Saturdays Gainsborough Central has problems, those at Lea Road are proportionately worse considering the number of additional journeys every week.

While facilities at both stations extend barely beyond a bus shelter a piece, Gainsborough rail users have asked Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) to consider making their empty coaching stock (ECS) working from Neville Hill to Lincoln Central most mornings to call at Gainsborough Lea Road, which would effectively be the starting point of the London King's Cross-bound journey. The mirror image would occur in the evening.

The additional call at Lea Road would add up to four minutes on the ECS run, something which wasn't envisaged would cause a problem with the complex pathing that Network Rail undertakes - certainly not before 0700 along the Joint Line. Yet VTEC is unwilling to consider a direct London link for Gainsborough's residents because they can't be bothered. It's too much hassle.

It's not in their franchise specification, so there is no incentive whatsoever for them to spend time and money on it. They claim that there are safety issues surrounding the nine-coach HST calling at Lea Road as the train doesn't have selective door mechanisms, and there are insufficient staff on board. But what is to stop passengers being permitted to board through the 'local door', that the train manager uses?

And this is precisely the attitude that will be taken by franchised bus operators should the Bus Bill permit the 'buy back' of commercial bus routes in counties whose authorities think they can run buses better than the experts. Goodbye flair, entrepreneurship, innovative ideas, promotions and an ability to grow fledgling markets.

Yet travel further north in the LETTR area to Beverley and First Hull Trains, who's free of the shackles of a franchise and its prescriptive tick-box specifications, and what do we see but a private operator introducing a new link north of their traditional terminus in Hull to the minster town. The new link, which commenced in January, not only offers an arrival in Hull from Beverley before 0630, but also operates on Saturdays as well as in the week and is currently being used by a large number of local people making local journeys.

One of FHT's Class 180s seen passing Brough. (Photo: Railway Herald)

The service also collects growing numbers of Leeds commuters at Howden for Selby, who then connect into a First TransPennine Express service from Hull to Leeds (that omits Howden).

So what started out as a gap in the market between the UK's fifteenth largest city and the Capital is rapidly growing to become a very useful local service, appreciated by thousands of locals each week. First Hull Trains is, in addition to offering a direct London service to/from Beverley, also offering new journey opportunities... because they can.

No franchise. No specifications. No government box-ticking. Just a desire to grow the market in any way they can. And with the delay to the electrification of the line from Selby to Hull, First Hull Trains has further safeguarded the Beverley extensions by signalling their intention to purchase bi-mode trains.

18 August 2015

TV mirrors the Coach Industry

Much has been made about the sideways step Messers Clarkson, Hammond & May have made by choosing to unleash their incredibly sought-after brand to Amazon, who, along with Clarkson's long-time producer friend Andy Wilman (also of the Top Gear alumni), will make a new-look motoring programme that, let's face it, Amazon knows will be quite possibly their biggest hit to date.

But why the furore? Amazon will show the show online. It won't be viewable via the traditional avenues such as the BBC, Freeview, Sky, Virgin Media et al.

Yet as I write this, twelve years ago a certain Scots National with a head for innovation and someone who seemed to possess the 'magic touch', was making plans to do something similar with the coach industry.

For it was in 2003 that Stagecoach's Megabus.com first took to the roads - motorways mainly - initially between Oxford and London in a move that many thought strange as it mirrored the company's flagship Oxford Tube turn-up-and-go express coach service between the two locations.

The modern-day Megabus.com uses vehicles about as far detached as those which launched the online-only coach service as is possible. Amazon, meanwhile, is using highly polished stars, immediately recognised.

But of course Megabus.com was the Amazon of its time. Tickets were only available online. And of course, back in 2003, far fewer people had online access. Twitter, for example, hadn't yet been invented and Facebook wasn't founded until the following February. No, back then, Stagecoach had to ensure its promotional machine was in top form and utilising ex-Hong Kong Leyland Olympians, its 'stars' were hardly known and hardly polished.

Amazon has it easy!

15 August 2015

From the August Archive

A number of notable local news stories took place during Augusts in years past.

August 1980 - 35yrs ago
Road Car was given permission to pick up and set down within Lincoln City Transport's operating area on 11 August, charging LCT fares. As a quid pro quo, LCT gained its long-term desire to serve Birchwood Estate. No co-ordination exited between either operator at this time.

On 31 August Stamford lost a bus depot when United Counties closed its sub-depot in the town and the majority of local services were handed over the other local operators.

August 1985 - 30yrs ago
Lincoln's West Signal Box was demolished on 10 August, following its purchase for £42 by a 14-year-old school boy.

August 1995 - 20yrs ago
The success of Stagecoach Express Service 909 (Grimsby/Hull - Sheffield) was such that Stagecoach was operating duplicates using vehicles from Grimsby depot's Peter Sheffield Coaches division. Generally coaches would wait at Gallows Wood lay-by for incoming coaches from Grimsby and Hull and following the transfer of passengers, would take the excess.

12 August saw the end of Routemaster operation in Hull, when EYMS chose with withdraw the iconic vehicle type. The vehicles were latterly used on the route they first made an appearance - Services 56/56A (Longhill).

August 2000 - 15yrs ago
In one of the largest schemes of its kind at the time, Railtrack replaced a pair of twin iron bridges that carried the ECML over the River Trent near Newark on 26-28 August. The repair work cost £8 million.

August 2005 - 10yrs ago
Fire beset a National Express coach working Service 447 (Lincoln - London) on 7 August, following an electrical problem in the engine compartment of Stagecoach in Peterborough's Volvo B10M/Jonckheere 52620 (S460 BCE), which was burned within minutes out on the A1 at Great Casterton.

August 2010 - 5yrs ago
Staying with National Express, and, indeed, Stagecoach in Peterborough, the latter introduced six Plaxton Elite-bodied Volvo B9Rs into service, replacing 52-reg Volvo B12M/Plaxton Paragons during August.

12 August 2015

Not Loving Newark Enough

They were introduced in a blaze of glory, offering a new-look brand for the Nottinghamshire town of Newark, but last week Stagecoach East Midlands chose to withdraw its new Optare Solo SRs and replace them with any spare vehicles in the fleet in return for some ADL Dart/ADL Enviro200s in a Scottish swap with Glasgow depot.

Full details of the acquired Darts are contained in the latest LEYTR (due any day now) though in the interim the vehicles they were effectively swapped with had yet to leave.

So. Farewell then "I Love Newark" Optare Solo SRs, 47842-6 (FT13 ODG/H/J/K/L). Newark loved you so much that you were sent away for good about as far away as possible.

06 August 2015

So. Farewell then "happy" Gemini 3

It's been synonymous with Ballymena-based Wrightbus for around a decade, but LEYTR understands that, following pressure from Lothian Buses and others who order large numbers of these body types, the latest version of the company's Gemini 3 body will be discontinued and given a standardised frontage from the company's newer StreetDeck bus.

Still referred to as the Gemini 3, the new-look vehicle which is already making waves with Lothian Buses on its prestigious Airline 100 route, bares very little resemblance to standard Gemini 3s, with orders being fulfilled at present. Yet the only change is the front. What a different the front makes!

Photo: Tim Butler.

The traditional Gemini body has been part of Wrightbus Eclipse family, with the sweeping curve marking the lower edge of the windscreen on single deckers and the lower windscreen on double-deckers.

The problem, it appears, is that so uniformed is the design, and with so few noticeable changes each time a revamp is made, operators are introducing these brand-spanking-new buses to the roads and passengers aren't noticing the investment. Leading the constructive criticism is Lothian Buses, the UK's largest municipal bus company.

Anyone who knows Lothian knows that its standards of cleanliness is such than you can board an X-reg Plaxton President-bodied Dennis Trident (as I did the other year) and the interior both looks and smells new. Being the recipient of countless Gemini bodies in recent years, and with the interiors being so well refined at any age, it is understandable, perhaps, that passengers simply do not recognise they're travelling on a new bus.

Dramatically changing the design - even if it's just adopting a standardised frontage - will naturally help things along.

Locally, RoadCar purchased a number of 06-reg Volvo B7TLs with Wrightbus Eclipse Gemini bodies immediately before being purchased by Stagecoach. Being delivered well into Stagecoach tenure, they wore a special Coastal Connect livery for the InterConnect 6 (Skegness-Lincoln). They've now been retired from the route, with one of the batch having recently lost part of its roof and operating the Lincoln City Tour.

More recently, EYMS and Delaine Buses have purchased new examples, with Delaine expecting its first and presumably only traditional Gemini 3-bodied Volvo B5TL in the coming weeks. LEYTR understands that EYMS is intending to purchase a batch of Wrightbus's StreetDecks, and has recently been evaluating an example in service.

22 April 2014

Pay-as-you-go Cars

One of the problems public transport faces is the perception that it is more expensive than the private car. On some occasions, this is true; on many, many others, this is simply untrue. Press proponents of private motoring on the issue and rather than admit defeat, they change the subject onto how infinitely more convenient their four wheels are.

In order to inform motorists just how reasonably priced travel by public transport is - especially by local bus - I propose that all petrol and diesel should be dispensed at filling stations for free.

That's right, free. Zero. Diddly-squat.

To me, the problem lies with the manner in which passengers pay to use public transport. While there are moves afoot to offer electronic top-up payment, this will never be rolled out to every bus operator and certainly not to those who use buses very infrequently. You also have to register, often online, for eligibility and to receive your card, in whatever form it takes.

This is far too much hassle for those who poo-poo buses and trains, let alone those who really don't care and begrudge their trip to town every other Saturday night on the local bus.

So, make petrol and diesel free at filling stations. You then fit payment devices in every single car. A little electronic card reader, which scans drivers' debit or credit cards. The cost of driving the vehicle would then be determined on miles per gallon, which of course, is determined by how efficiently the owner of the vehicle can drive.

I believe that if motorists were forced (because you really would need to force them, rather than cajole or enthuse them) to pay for their motoring in the same way as they perceive how they'd pay for public transport, you'd see many converts.

I've been using the excellent website Fuelly for almost two years now. It's effectively a posh calculator, into which you input details of each and every refuel at the local filling station. You state your vehicle's odometer reading, the cost per litre of your chosen fuel type and the number of litres dispensed. A miles-per-gallon figure is then calculated and a £-per-mile premium is also shown.

My car costs 17p per mile to run. Using this data, and knowing how many miles your daily commute is, the likely savings can be seen. But as I've mentioned above, seeing the savings on paper is not good enough. By dispensing fuel for free and then charging motorists per mile to use their vehicle (for me it would be 17p), the savings will be far more widely felt by virtue of how expensive the car is.

From the LEYTR Editorial in Bourne, a commute to the nearest city (Peterborough) is 32 miles, or £5.44 by car. This is 84p more than the equivalent return on the local bus (two buses per hour M-F from 0620 in the morning peak and last return journey M-S at 2015). "Big deal, 84p" petrol heads will say. But over a 5-day week, this is £27.20, compared with a Week Saver on the bus, costing £18.50, meaning a saving of £8.70 and that doesn't include any payments for parking. Over a 47-week period, car users would save £408.90.

Naturally, those who commute by car as they have no competing bus or train or those who commute to Peterborough but then have to head to the other side of the city to one of the many offices where the competing bus doesn't call, will not benefit. Importantly though, they wouldn't be any worse off as their per-mile payment would total the same as if they'd paid for a tank of fuel at a filling station.

But the concept of more literal pay-as-you-go motoring cannot harm the perception of the cost of using public transport. Paying £60 to fill your tank already causes many to bemoan the government and the tax levied. The best way to 'get back' at the Chancellor is not to use your car.

If nothing else, the Fuelly website, which also sees users' mpg data anonymously used to calculate average UK mpg data, throws into sharp light exactly how much using your car costs, with the per mile value. This generally sees private motorists commuting medium distances against a competing bus or train service paying more. My method of expressing just how much more they're paying by forcing motorists to pay to use their car in the same way they would for a bus or train is controversial. But then so is increasing the cost of fuel by 2p as each and every government over the past two decades has discovered.