Sunday, 23 November 2014

On Trac at Thorncombe [1]

Thorncombe is a small out-of-the-way village in Dorset with its nearest station being historically the now-closed Chard Junction ...
... but now part way between Axminster and Crewkerne.

Getting there by bus is not easy! And no use for a Wesdnesday club meeting ...
... and nowhere much to stay overnight even if you did! It does have a surprising lavish shelter, should you need to wait a week for your return journey.
The village is quaint with an attractive church ...
... and a good old fashioned direction finger post ...
... which leads to the splendid village hall.
It was here, last Wednesday, that fbb was well and truly on trac!
About 40 mainly mature mainly male meet once a month to listen to talks, watch films etc. on a wide variety of railway matters. Two visitors had trekked all the way from Weymouth.  fbb enjoyed a very through illustrated talk ...
... from Colin Brading; up to the high standards expected. That was after the usual battle with the Microslop Windslow confuser.
It seemed to be something to do with passwords. Why do people bother with a password on a computer that only they and close family will use?

Before fbb set off on a wet and windy drive to Thorncombe, Mrs fbb had asked "what sort of meeting is it?" fbb riposted that he had no idea, but if the speaker mentioned Fowlers Ghost ...
... he would obviously know his stuff. He did and he did!
There was tea, prepared by ladies. (As is well known, male railway enthusiasts are incapable of making tea!) There was cake ditto. Cake plus cuppa £1. There was a raffle but fbb did not partake.
There was a box of old books for sale and fbb did partake ...
... and there was a library of DVDs which members could borrow. fbb was politely warned that he could not borrow as he was not a member. (Ooo-er!). Which was a slight snag with Trac's financial filosophy. Membership starts in January and is at a bargain price of £10 per annum. Visitors are charged £3 a meeting. So paying 66.6 (recurring) percent of the annual fee for November and December meetings seemed poor value. In the end fbb negotiated £3 for the two meetings!

During the tea break, your chubby blogger had the opportunity to meet the club's most frequent attender ...
... and fierce guardian of the second hand books box! fbb did not catch the name but "Fido" did not seem as interested in the Metropolitan Railway as was fbb.

Trac also organises an annual model railway exhibition which fbb was unable to attend due to a family visit. But the layouts on show are of high quality; very enterprising for a small club in a rural location.
Should you be in the area on a meeting day, you would, fbb is sure, be most welcome. Combine the evening with a daytime visit to Forde Abbey (April to October) and/or Buffers model shop; both of which are nearby. Web sites as follows:-

Trac (here)

Forde Abbey (here)

Buffers (here)

But, overall, a spiffingly good evening despite a touch of Devon and Dorset monsoon mixed with foggy patches. fbb recommends that visitors "case the joint" during daylight if they want to find it. Maybe SatNav would also do the trick.
Elder grandson busking (with official permit!) in Oxford yesterday.
Bowler supplied by fbb's No 1 son.
 Next bus blog : Monday 24th November 

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Split Tickets Part Three

Or Even Four!
A blog comment writer suggested this site as a "better" and "more useful" way of benefiting from splitting our rail journey into separate chunks. Those considering this idea MUST be aware that it can add extra restrictions and complications to your journey and is not recommended for the inexperienced. The two sites so far tested (TicketySplit and Split Your Ticket) are simply not good enough.

A recent fbb journey was from Axminster to Reading on a Saturday. TicketySplit only does singles so offered a fare nearly twice as much as the saver return. SplitYourTicket told fbb that the journey was too short. Split Ticketing gave the fare which fbb paid which was £27.05 saver return. All fares quoted here are for travel using a senior railcard.
BUT when your intrepid investigator looked for an earlier train, the program gave a different answer.
Where did the £2 saving come from. Answer; the system strung together three DAY returns.
Such a ruse is perfectly OK provided that trains in both directions stop at the designated stations; which, in this case, they do. But here's the beef. Day returns are available by any train on a Saturday, so why the difference? Dunno; but it does not inspire confidence in the system.

For fbb's recent Axminster to Truro run early on a Tuesday, the system correctly offered peak travel to the point at which peak restrictions ceased and thus saved much fine gold.
Neither of the previous two systems tried could find this.

What about Aminster to Sheffield?
Here the offer is a string of six assorted tickets totalling £81.45. What, thought fbb. would it offer via London. Well, it didn't. To get a "via London" fare (arguably the best way to go anyway) you had to click on "advanced options". And here was a big surprise. Your were passed on to a FOURTH site ...
... associated with the RailEasy ticket selling site.

Raileasy's smart booking engine will always default to cheap rail tickets; the cheapest available at the time so you do not have to route (sic! they mean "root" : literacy is not a requirement for their web designers.) around to find a good deal! We do the hard work for when searching for cheap rail tickets. (so does every other ticket retailing site!) offered only the usual super saver at £85.80. The only restriction for fbb on the route via London is that you have to go early enough to avoid a peak hour super saver ban out of St Pancras (Monday to Friday).

Now the decision a user has to take is simple. 

Do you want to go via Bristol, save £4.35 and have to use the same route back OR, pay the super saver rate and travel via Bristol or via London as the spirit moves? Would you be confident that your return train stopped at all the right stations? What if you made a mistake?

One final test. Axminster to London at peak times. You may remember that SplitYourTicket, although resolutely refusing any offers on MOST of fbb's enquiries did offer a stunning bargain here.
But, we may remember, these were all out-of-date fares.

Interestingly (worryingly) SplitTicketing came up with different answers. This for a return after 1600 ...
... and this for a return one hour later and more into the peak.
Cheaper by over £10 for "more peak" journey. Try to explain all that to a "normal" passenger!

If it's right.

Without going into the complex detail, it is clear (really?) that savings via split ticketing in general add restriction, tension and, dangerously, extra expense IF you make even the smallest error; or, heaven forfend, if a train misses its connection. It is very easy to be stuck with an invalid ticket. If you are prepared to take those extra risks and restrictions then, for the moment, this SplitTicketing site is better then the other two (TicketySplit and SplitYourTicket) which should be disposed of in the great electronic waste bucket in the sky.

What is really crazy is that TicketySplit is being promoted by when it rarely saves you money,

Maybe it is best to take heed of this heading on the SplitTicketing site.

Anyway, fbb's brain is now hurting badly, so a strong coffee is needed before proceeding with the rest of his day.

Number four ( needs a further look.

But later!

Just a snippet of nostalgia. A teenage fbb used to travel regularly by bus from Northampton to Little Billing turn. Fare tables were never published by United Counties, but fbb got hold of one from an employee. He discovered that he could save tuppence (less than 1p) by rebooking at Weston Favell The Trumpet (just below "Hospl" on the map.
So one day he tried it. Suffice it to say that the conductor's reaction was vehement with antagonistic and aggressive asperity. fbb never tried again. He was too frit! With today's coarse and steeply "tapered" fare scales, it is unlikely that Bustticketsplit would ever deliver a bonus.

Unless anyone out there knows any better?

 Next rail blog : Sunday 23rd November 

Friday, 21 November 2014

Stagecoach are Bettering Buses to Kettering [4]

And on to Market Harborough.
Around 1570, Robert Smith (or Smyth?), from the town, walked to London. By 1598, he had become comptroller of the City of London. In 1607 he founded Market Harborough Grammar School. The building still exists in the Market Place. For the first 150 years, it was only open to boys who were of the Anglican faith.

From an omnibological point of view, Market Harborough was a boundary town. Midland Red (later Midland Fox, now Arriva) approached from Leicester. Another bit of Midland Red arrived from Rugby and United Counties rumbled in from Northampton, Kettering and Corby. Things are very different now:-
The 43 is a variant of the X43; the 77 ditto of the X7. Rural Riders are occasional days only routes.
It is what remains of the United Counties "network" that is the interest of this blog. The X7 has been doubled in frequency between Northampton, Market Harborough and Kibworth.
This odd destination, part way to Leicester, mystified Northamptonian bus watchers; but the Stagecoach web site reveals all (nearly all). The magic words "Section 106 funding" are quoted. This is a scheme whereby local authorities and/or developers sling money at bus companies to ensure a good "start-up" service for the folk who buy their houses. Explained at last, perhaps, by a big development at Kibworth Meadows?
Good bus territory at Kibworth Meadows?

The other remaining United Counties route offered just six journeys a day Monday to Friday between Kettering and Market Harborough in 1952 (service 9).
Intriguingly there were twice as many journeys on Saturdays when all good housewives would trek to their local market for bargains, fresh produce and a cheap lunch! On Sunday afternoons, through until 2200, the service was hourly. How times have changed, eh?

In the renumbering it became 259 but by the time of the Great Britain Bus Timetable (e.g. year 2000) it was a 19, offering much the same level of service Monday to Friday ...
... but with no Saturday enhancement. On Sunday you had three tendered journeys.

Yet again, Stagecoach developed the route until it became an hourly service 18 Monday to Saturday (only) as reported yesterday.
Like the 18, the replacement X43 serves the Cromwell Crescent estate in Market Harborough ...
... on a double run from the bus station.
Did this area once have the more prosaic name of "Southern Estate"?

Bus Station? Did fbb write "bus station"? There used to be one, with proper, if rudimentary, departure stands.
The equivalent stop, outside the Market Hall, is spartan by comparison. Two shelters and a couple of stop poles?
This exuberant facility is on the fringes of the town centre. The X7 to Leicester, for example, stops at the much more useful High Street.
So the 18 becomes an X43 and is extended fast (less slow?) to Northampton. Whilst residents of Market Harborough would use the X7, the new link gives the good folk of Braybrook, Desborough and Rothwell their first-ever through bus link to the retail fleshpots of central Northampton. Only time will tell if this facility proves attractive to the customers.
P.S. re: Southern Estate.

A new Southern Estate was planned to accommodate 700 dwellings, shopping centre, school and recreation ground. The Council laid initial access roads named after personalities of the Battle of Naseby since these fields were crossed by both armies on 14 June 1645. A plaque now records the events and was unveiled by Mrs H.B. Lenthall on 1 February 1951 to mark the opening of the Estate development. Around 150 dwellings were built for rent with the remaining plots available for private building. The final phase of development occurred in the 1980s. 

fbb's memory ain't that bad after all!
A Sheffield Correspondent
in Kettering writes:-

"All Stagecoach timetable leaflets for Kettering are also available on a self-service basis from racks inside the Stagecoach Depot which is about half way between the Railway  Station and the Town Centre stops. There is also a window where you can ring a bell for attention between certain times to speak to a human. There is a "safe route" round the depot to this facility."
follow the green brick road (centre right)
for secret Stagecoach timetables?

"BUT, of course, THE PUBLIC WILL NOT BE AWARE OF THIS. It is only the curious, informed, enthusiasts and people like me (which category am I?) who will know they can obtain information there. I was in Kettering at about 1700 on Wednesday, en route back from Corby and collected publicity for the changes."

Thank you John H.
 Next split ticket blog : Saturday 22nd November 

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Stagecoach are Bettering Buses to Kettering [3]

A Bridge Too Far
One problem has faced buses running between Northampton and Kettering. And it is this:-
This is the Midland main line immediately north of Kettering station. The road has been lowered but double deck buses have generally be forced to take a significant diversion.
At this junction (offending bridge to the right) the route turns left and wiggles via Kettering Hospital ...
... before turning back southbound to the town centre.
The low bridge is to the left of the (new) roundabout by the "K" of Kettering; Hospital upper right.

The bridge was a real problem and occasionally caught out visiting vehicles as here ...
... where 25 West Midlands children on a day trip to Wicksteed Park were injured.

So let's look at running times; with a reminder that the Gold X4 runs from Peterborough to Milton Keynes and follows a fast(er) route between Wellingborough and Northampton.

 6  via Moulton in 1952 - 56 minutes
 256  not via Moulton in 1959 - 49 minutes

 38  via Mears Ashby in 2014 - 83 minutes

 39  via Old in 2014  - 83 minutes

 X4  via Wellingborough in 2014 - 60 minutes

After the changes on November 2nd we have on offer

 38  withdrawn

 39  via Old REVISED - 78 minutes

 X4  via Wellingborough NO CHANGE - 60 minutes

 X43  via Moulton NEW - 54 minutes

For those not familiar with Northamptonshire's geography, Old is a village not a description of Stagecoach buses or an ancient bus route!

Not only is the X43 new and (slightly) faster between Northampton and Kettering, but it continues northwards to Market Harborough taking over from the former service 18.
Here is a chunk of the new X43 timetable:-
The Stagecoach leaflet is well laid out with 39 and X43 on offer including a full route map ...
... plus a selection of town maps; that for Kettering itself showing how far stops are now removed to the railway station. Integrated transport? No fear?
Stagecoach are generally good at providing information but what is available out in the sticks of Kettering?
The other "coming together" of buses is at Eskdaill Street ...
... and round the corner at Newland Street.
Alan writes:-

"You recall the splendid Public Transport Information display at Wellingborough Church Street. Well Kettering has two, one in Newland Street and another round the corner in Eskdaill Street. The signs match the generally run down appearance of the bus loading area, no wonder there are people out there who think only the poor and unwashed travel by bus."

Here are Kettering's two.
Newland Street

The Northampton Street Fair advertised was from 25th to 28th October. The blue and pink poster is for the Kettering Dayrider but the glass (plastic) is so dirty you can hardly read them. Eskdaill Street is similar ...
Eskdaill Street

... with the addition of a just visible 7 day ticket poster in purple and grey.

And what about printed timetables? Erm, what? Eh? You want a TIMETABLE? Hey, Bill, we've got a guy here who wants a bus timetable!

In common with the code of secrecy and despite large display frames in the shelters ...
... Stagecoach does not display any timetables anywhere the town. Departure lists, yes. Timetable, no. Route maps, no.

Alan did a tour, mystery shopper style, as follows:-

1045 - X4, Northampton to Wellingborough.
1133 - X1, Wellingborough to Finedon.
1210 - 50, Finedon to Irthlingborough.
1240 - 45, Irtlingborough to Wellingborough.

       Lunch break.
1442 - 34, Wellingborough to Kettering.
1559 - X43, Kettering to Northampton.

He searched for timetables in general and for the new X43 service specifically.

Northampton North Gate. Timetables for Services 39 and X43 on display.
Wellingborough Library seems to be the only source of printed timetables in the town and oh dear! Out of date timetables for W3 and 45 still displayed, nothing for 34, X46 and X47 and no train timetables.
Finedon library does not open on Monday or Tuesday so no chance of finding anything there,
Kettering's council offices have lots of lovely computers but no bus timetables.
They are across the car park at the Manor House Museum. There was a complete set of current Stagecoach timetables but nothing for the 34 or any rail information.
The café in Newland Street used to have them but not any more.

Alan further opines that he knows the area, he knows where to look BUT how would a visitor find any leaflets, with the notable exception of Northampton's bus station?

Of course, how stupid of visitors to Kettering. It is obvious that you get bus information from the town's museum. Bus passengers are just SO incompetent!

Is this really the (non) advert for their services that Stagecoach want? Printed material has sunk into the "it's all too much trouble and they can use the internet" philosophy. Some can, and do. Many, many more can, but don't. But the vast majority of bus passengers would not be able to access on-line information. Weirdly this represents the majority of today's bus users. What other industry would treat its largest tranche of customers with such contempt?

Yet Another Ticket Splitter
A blog comment on Tuesday ...
... suggested that fbb should try a third site offering to unravel the complexity of rail fares. A more detailed report on will follow on Saturday. At first glance it looks better.
 Next bus blog : Friday 21st November