Monday, 22 December 2014

Balloch Branch; the first Bit [1]

It's not Christmas yet! Yesterday was the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Our Minister here in Seaton announced that it was "The Two Ronnies Sunday."
Chortle, chortle!
The first of an occasional series looking at Glasgow's suburban railway network.

But first, a caveat:

Glasgow's suburban rail services are the most complex outside of London. Their history lies in the days of competition between rail companies and over the years lines have been closed, opened, linked, unlinked and relinked which, frankly, makes short and sweet blogs almost impossible to compose. Nevertheless, fbb will try; but basing his posts on services as they are today.

A while ago, by way of an introduction, your author revealed his very first venture into Scotland and his first encounter with a Glasgow "blue train" at Balloch in 1962. See "She Belongs to Glasgow ..." (read again).

So we begin by looking at the train service from Balloch, which, today, runs every 30 minutes via Westerton and Queen Street Low Level to Airdrie.
The railway act for the proposed Caldeonian and Dumbarton railway received Royal assent in  1846 .
On 15 July  1850  the line was opened. Steamer services on Loch Lomond ran from Balloch Pier railway station, and at the south end of the line Bowling railway station gave access to Clyde steamers ...
... providing connecting services along the River Clyde to Glasgow and the Firth of Clyde. Briefly, Patrick Stirling ...
... was locomotive engineer to this little line. He later became chief engineer to the North British Railway and, to this day, remains famous for his design of the "Stirling Single", the first steam locomotive to run at 60 mph!
In  1858  the Bowling terminus became a through station courtesy of an end-on connection with the Glasgow, Dumbarton and Helensburgh Railway, which continued to its Clydeside terminus from a junction west of Dumbarton at Dalreoch. In  1862  the Helensburgh company became the Glasgow and Edinburgh Railway and in  1865  it was absorbed by the North British Railway.

But competition was coming to the Glasgow to Dumbarton route in the form of the Lanarkshire and Dunbartonshire Railway [LDR] which duly arrived in  1896 . The route to Balloch was the subject of much acrimonious debate. The Caledonian Railway wanted to build a parallel line but in an outbreak of joint protective self-preservation, the [LDR] and the Balloch company had reached an agreement (The Dumbarton and Balloch Joint Line Committee) to work the branch jointly in  1891 .
Eventually (in  1909 ) the Caledonian Railway absorbed the LDR.
In  1923  the Government "persuaded" the motley collection of small, medium and large railway companies to form four mega-railways. The North British became part of the London and North Eastern Railway, and the Caledonian was subsumed into the London Midland and Scottish group. The two companies continued to promote services to and on Loch Lomond jointly.

It would be a mistake to imagine that, back in these "good old days", trains were anywhere near as frequent as they are today. The communities were small ...
... compared with today.
The "green" roads are all new builds.

This timetable extract from  1938  is typical ...
... showing just four arrivals at Balloch between 1500 and 1800.

The timetable notes are worth a look.

S - Saturdays only
F - Fridays only
E - except Saturdays
h - calls at Jordanhill
B - station for Knightswood, a developing Glasgow suburb in 1938
A - station for Duntocher, one and a quarter miles away

But most intriguing is the column note for the 1548 from Bridgeton Cross. "Does not Convey Luggage to the Coast." Why not? Are passengers with bags and cases condemned to the slower trains at 1457 and 1557? And why?

Tomorrow, we return to Balloch Pier and take a look at the stations on this fascinating little line.

No one knows with complete accuracy how the Bible was put together, but, as a collection of writings two thirds of it is over 2500 years old, the remaining third jut 500 years less. It begins with perfection.

Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the East, and there he put the humans he had formed. He made all kinds of beautiful trees grow there and produce good fruit. In the middle of the garden stood the tree that gives life and the tree that gives knowledge of what is good and what is bad. (Genesis Chapter 2)

The rest of the Bible deals with the problems caused when two naked numpties tasted the idea of "bad". For 2500 years we read about the relationships of mankind with a loving God; how they messed up and did a lot of three letter wording! Two thirds of the way through, however, came an answer.

A miraculous child grew up, preached, teached died and survived. Somewhere in that stunning story is the answer.

Do it God's way with the help of Jesus and there is good news at the end.

The angel also showed me the river of the water of life, sparkling like crystal, and coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb and flowing down the middle of the city's street. On each side of the river was the tree of life, which bears fruit twelve times a year, once each month; and its leaves are for the healing of the nations. Nothing that is under God's curse will be found in the city. (Revelation Chapter 22)

The eternal picture is complete.

For many of us, however hard the challenge of Faith may be, the seasonal story is the highlight of 2500 years of recorded history and spiritual experience. You have to wonder what the world would be like if everyone took Christmas seriously?
Just a bit of tidying-up to do before the "big day".
 Next rail blog : Tuesday 23rd December 

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Hunt for a Hotel : Plenty in Paris

But How to Choose?
Ploughing through 2780 hotels seemed a thankless task. What made it worse was that fbb was to be joined by a long-standing chum from Leicester (also "mature") and choosing  a hotel for somebody else is fraught with double dangers!

Do we want  "most popular", "budget", "best reviewed" or "best price guaranteed"?

And what about the reviews? Often contradictory, these little snippets simply add even more confusion.

But Sally and David came to the rescue. One of fbb's former ministers and wife (now retired) had been on a package holiday to Paris with a south coast tour company which involved a boat crossing from near their home in Peacehaven. 

They stayed here ...
... at the grandly named Hotel Pacific, which doesn't look much. But the hotel web site had some nice pictures plus a video.
Looks OK and seems cheap enough for two old codgers (two star; hotel, not codgers!) and was recommended by real people. It is on Rue Fondary in the 15th Arrondissement which, according to the internet ...

est le théâtre d'un double meurtre, abondamment commenté par la presse, fin 1923.

... was the scene of a double murder in 1923! The hotel claims to be near the Eiffel Tower but so might a good chunk of Paris! 
The nearest métro stop is Dupleix on an overground bit (line 6) of the Paris underground.
Thanks to the joys of Google maps, you can take a virtual walk via Rue Lourmel ...
... turn left at the butchers' ...
... and the hotel is just a couple of hundred yards from the crossroads. Also at the crossroads is a bus stop.
Route 42 starts, helpfully, at Gare du Nord, fbb's arrival point.
So a bus is available door to door (almost).
But the challenge of grappling with a 14 minute frequency ...
... on the Sunday arrival day means that first contact will probably be by métro.
From Gare du Nord it's ligne 4 "direction Montrouge" to Montparnasse-Bienvenüe then line 6 direction Étoile to Dupleix. At Montpanasse a subway link was made with the separate and neighbouring station  Bienvenüe and to aid the weary traveller the connection is by "tapis roulant" (rolling carpet) called more innovatively a Trav-o-lator by London Underground.
Although métro timetables are not available, the two lines offer at least a train every 4/5 minutes so, no probs.

fbb has already booked Eurostar tickets on-line, ...
... booked the hotel and made sure that he understands how to get there. All systems are "go".

Don't you just love it when a plan comes together. And only five months before departure!
The angel measured the city: it was fifteen hundred miles long and was as wide and as high as it was long; the wall was 216 feet high. The wall was made of jasper, and the city itself was made of pure gold, as clear as glass. The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with all kinds of precious stones. The first stone was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh yellow quartz, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chalcedony, the eleventh turquoise, the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls; each gate was made from a single pearl.

Weird or what?

His name was John (not the same John who wrote a Gospel) and he was under house arrest on the Greek Island of Patmos.
In about 100AD he wrote down his crazy visions of "the end times", then end of life, the universe and everything. The Book of Revelation is not one of the most popular books of the Bible, and you can understand why!

But how could any human being, limited by the laws of physics, bounded by the restrictions of space and time, ever describe the concept of heaven. Some take the visions literally; even "seeing" the heavenly city in a photo from the Hubble space telescope.
Others are happier with a more poetic and allegorical interpretation.

But the challenge is still there however we visualise an eternity. God's plan for those that "join in" is for a more purposeful non-self-centred life now; and for some sort of eternity.

Christmas allows both to be a reality.
 Next rail blog : Monday 22nd December 

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Métro Magnifique

Plans Proceed : Research Required
La tour Eiffel a été construite par Gustave Eiffel à l’occasion de l’Exposition Universelle de 1889 qui célébrait le premier centenaire de la Révolution française. Sa construction en 2 ans, 2 mois et 5 jours, fût une véritable performance technique et architecturale. « Utopie réalisée », prouesse technologique, elle fut à la fin du 19ème siècle la démonstration du génie français incarné par Gustave Eiffel, un point d’orgue de l’ère industrielle. Elle connut immédiatement un immense succès.

But there is more to Paris than a huge metal tower. There is the famous métro ...
... 14 "main" lines and two shuttles (3bis and 7bis). The mini-map was produced, by the way, by fbb showing (white squares) major métro interchanges and (red squares) the six SNCF terminus stations.

There is the RER, five lines fulflling a similar function to the UK's one Crossrail.
Some routes even have double-deck trains.
There are 8 tram routes mainly serving the inner suburbs ...
... of which lines 3a and 4b form a substantial part of an outer circle at the city boundary.
Then there are outer suburban trains, marketed as "Transilien" ...

Transilien comprend une partie des cinq lignes A, B, C, D et E, qui constituent le réseau express régional d'Île-de-France (RER) et traversent de part en part le sous-sol parisien (« traversée » escomptée seulement en 2020 pour ce qui est de la ligne E), ainsi que huit autres lignes « Transilien » non-RER (lignes H, J, K, L, N, P, R et U).

... although, operated by SNCF (French National Railways), the "brand" sort-of includes some of the RER routes.

Then there is OrlyVal, a fully automaic train service linking RER station "Antony" with Orly airport.
And we mustn't forget the buses. There are about 50 city big-bus routes plus a substantial number of suburban services.
And a final oddity is the little funicular which takes visitors up he hill to the Basilique du Sacré Coeur.
Transport that is short and sweet.
And, talking of short and sweet, there are midi bus routes like the electric Montmatrobus, also tootling up and down the hill on which stands the basilica. 
In fact, there is so much to see public transport-wise that fbb does not expect to have any energy left to enjoy the more traditional pursuits of Paris - thankfully!
But as the advertisements move on from the post festive sales (if there's anything left after black Friday!) ...
... and then on further to tempting offers for Summer Holidays, fbb will be continuing to plan for his trip in May 2015. Indeed the hotel is booked plus Eurostar travel.

Of which more tomorrow.
   a psalm   

May the Lord answer you when you are in trouble!
May the God of Jacob protect you!
May he send you help from his Temple
and give you aid from Mount Zion.
May he accept all your offerings
and be pleased with all your sacrifices.
May he give you what you desire
and make all your plans succeed.
Then we will shout for joy over your victory
and celebrate your triumph by praising our God.
May the Lord answer all your requests.

"Give you what you desire," and "make all your plans succeed"; sounds far too good to be true. And it doesn't happen, does it? The common complaint about God is that he "allows bad things to happen" and "why doesn't God do something about all the evil in the world?"

Is that really what we want? Do we really, really want God to bump off a person every time he or she tells a "white" lie, nicks something that doesn't belong to them or utters a blasphemy? Oh my God, we wouldn't want that, would we?
It is hard to accept that God knows best eternally even if we can't understand "why" in this short life. It is hard to accept that a believing loved one, whose life has ended perhaps prematurely, will be far better off in heaven than here on earth.
maybe if we met a host of angels,
we would struggle to describe the experience!!

But Psalm 20 (written down over two and a half thousand years ago) pre-echoes the message of the Angels. "Success" in God's economy begins with our offering of ourselves to him, with a life in which, sacrificially if needs be, we put God first in everything.

Now that ain't easy either! But, fortunately God sent a guide, an example and one who would bear the consequences of our failures for us. The words are worth repeating:-

Suddenly a great army of heaven's angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!"

The baby of Christmas grew up, and the adult Jesus offers to change us utterly and for the better.
 Next bus blog : Sunday 21st December 

Friday, 19 December 2014

Frequency Frustrations : France and Filton

When's the Next Bus?

fbb is always going on (and on and on) about the lack of Bus timetables at stops. Because you can buy a confuser program to do it for you, many bus operators stick up a departure list (some even call then "timetables"!!) and leave the passenger to guess when thy might arrive.

In London, bus timetables are officially banned. Completely. They don't exist**. On the most recent Transport for London web site you get even less information. Once you could download a copy of the full departure list as printed and posted at bus stops. Now you have a bigger display (for those on the tablets) and less information.
And, of course, you have to calculate your arrival time in your head (or on the calculator on your tablet). This is dead easy at a bus stop, in a queue in the pouring rain. It also means that any chance of planning a connection is impossible. You are forced to start earlier and allow extra time.

The new-look Buses of Somerset has no timetables displayed at Taunton bus station ...
... so you are well stuffed if the enquiry office is closed.

Obviously, if the bus service is frequent and short, or if you are a regular used of the route, a departure list is fine. If the service is less frequent, again a regular traveller will soon get used to a tidy repeat pattern.

fbb is currently beginning the planning process for his big boys outing to Paris next May. Lo and behold, there are no timetables on the RATP web site for any city bus, tram or metro route.
This is the offering for bus 92.
Note the impossibility of calculating every 13 or 14 minutes. Here is a simpler (ha ha!) panel for bus 20.
Will my bus come in 6 minutes? Or 20 minutes? Or somewhere in between?
And a similar system for one of Paris' superb tram services.
Assuming you get he right bit of the day, the right day of the week, and the right section of the line (the horizontal bands) you are forced to make allowances for "between every 14 and every 18 minutes". A lovely quick and cheap tram service slows you down because you don't know when the next one will arrive. Counterproductive!

But occasionally, the timetable defies any sense of passenger friendliness however it is presented.
Our Bristol correspondent informs us of some changes to the Wessex Star (whoops, sorry, that should, of course, be Wessexstar.) timetables, services to the University of the West of England. Mainly, these are reductions in frequency, possibly as a result of the success of new First Bus services. For example, the Monday to Friday 13 ...
... in reduced from every 10 to every 12.
But, look at the 13 on Sundays : an INCREASED frequency ...
... from every 30 minutes to every 25 minutes. Crazy or what?

Likewise the Saturday service 19 is REDUCED from a memorable every 20 minutes ...
... to a profoundly forgettable every 25. But don't try looking in the Wessexstar website for this second example ...
... 'cos the "new timetable" link doesn't work!

Frequencies do funny things to passengers. fbb remembers an anecdote (perhaps apocryphal) told of a town service on the Isle of Wight. To save half a bus in the schedules, it was reduced from half hourly to every forty minutes. As a result of further declining passenger numbers it was then reduced further to every hour. Passenger numbers promptly increased because Vectensians could now remember when the bus would come.

For whatever reason, every 25 minutes is a daft frequency and is attractive to nobody.

** Actually they do. Here is one for the 108 as shown "officially" above.
But this man ...

... Robert Munster has them all (here)
   Ch 19   
  from Luke  
But does it really matter? The Nativity story is all well and good but is it relevant?

These words were written down about 2000 years ago and they predicted doom and disaster for the people.

If you only knew today what is needed for peace! But now you cannot see it! The time will come when your enemies will surround you with barricades, blockade you, and close in on you from every side. They will completely destroy you and the people within your walls; not a single stone will they leave in its place, because you did not recognize the time when God came to save you!

 In AD70, about 35 years after these words were spoken, "not a single stone was left in place" in Jerusalem. The words, of course, were spoken by Jesus ...
... just a few days before he allowed his life to be taken. His words seem strangely relevant today.

In a nutshell, the people had ignored Christmas.
 Next bus blog : Saturday 20th December