Thursday, 29 June 2017

Blandford's Beautiflul Bridges (1) ...

On A Much Loved Long Lost Line.
Blandford Forum features in the Flanders and Swan nostalgia fest featuring long lost railway stations - although some of their chosen stations never closed and some have re-opened.

No more will I go to Blandford Forum and Mortehoe 
On the slow train from Midsomer Norton and Mumby Road
No churns, no porter, no cat on a seat 
At Chorlton-cum-Hardy or Chester-le-Street
We won't be meeting again 
On the Slow Train

I'll travel no more from Littleton Badsey to Openshaw
At Long Stanton I'll stand well clear of the doors no more
No whitewashed pebbles, no Up and no Down 
From Formby Four Crosses to Dunstable Town
I won't be going again 
On the Slow Train

For those whose geographical knowledge need a little titivate, the little market town is situated a few miles north-west of Bournemouth and Poole.
Blandford has been a fording point since Anglo-Saxon times, when it was recorded as Blaen-y-ford and as Blaneford in the Domesday Book. The name Blandford derives from the Old English blĒ£ge, and probably means ford where gudgeon or blay are found. By the 13th century it had become a market town with a livestock market serving the nearby Blackmore Vale with its many dairy farms. At the start of the 14th century it returned two members of parliament and was also known as Cheping Blandford. The Latin word Forum, meaning market, was recorded in 1540.

Its public transport interest is centred on its railway station on the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway (S&D). Trains ran from Bath (Somerset) to near Bournemouth (Dorset) and followed a very rambling rural route serving lots of mall but barely profitable communities.
The "Joint" in its title was because the management of the line was shared by the Midland Railway (at Bath) and the London and South Western Railway at its southern end.
The original Blandford station, terminus of the Dorset Central Railway, was south of the River Stour, but three years later, after a merger with The Somerset Central Railway, the line ran through the town and a new, more central station was built.
Here is the station.looking south from atop the footbridge; and below is a fuzzy video clip from the 1960s, looking north with the footbridge in the background.
The station closed together with the rest of the S&D in 1966 and the demolition was filmed.
But the footbridge and the houses next to it still stand.
The station site itself is inevitably a small housing estate.
At the entrance to the little car parking area, the estate designers have left a memory of past ferroequinological glory in the form of a short length of track.
The approaches to town and station from the south were on viaduct ...
... the demolition of which drew crowds of onlookers.
It is hard to understand what made this line so popular with enthusiasts when it was open and, now, when there is very little left to see. But popular it was and still is, with many regretting its passing with a "lump in the throat" passion.

One possible explanation is that, because of the link from the Midlands via Bath, the partly single track line changed its character at weekends. Large numbers of long holiday trains, often double headed ...
... would convey happy holiday makers from the North and the Midlands for their week by the briny. This print from Alan Ward gives something of the atmosphere of the seaside terminus.
It must have been a very impressive sight to see a ten coach "express" powering through Blandford Forum hauled by either a Southern or a Midland "main line" engine.

Yes, maybe that is why the line still evokes such nostalgia.

But there is one other remnant of Blandford's long lost railway that intrigues.

We will explore further tomorrow.

 Next Blandford bridge blog : Friday 30th June 

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Brackmills Buses Bewilder (3)

We're In The Money!
Yesterday we looked at service 23, a historic Northampton Corporation route extended to perform a loop in Brackmills at peak times; to which was added service 108 offering a shuttle to and from town at lunchtimes. Both these run Mondays to Fridays only.

Enter route 51 ...
... with occasional peak hour only trips serving the mega warehousing on Gowerton Road and Salthouse Road.
Note how counter-intuitive the road network is. Several of the main thoroughfares turn a sharp 90 degree part way along, often causing a sudden attack of disorientation.

Service 53 performs a similar service but brings in happy workers from the eastern districts of the town. Once again these trips offer peak hours bits and pieces only.
Towards the end of 2016 came a positive announcement from "The Management" ...
... not of a bus company or the local authority; but the management of the industrial estate.

A new Saturday Service, number 51, will commence on Saturday, 29th October for an initial four month trial period. This service will run to and from North Gate Bus Station to Brackmills. The times of these journeys are designed to provide arrivals for 6am, 7am, 8am and 2pm shift starts, as well as 6am, 7am, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm and 6pm shift finishes.
It sank beneath the waves of negligible passenger numbers!

This announcement was an addition to the "big bang" of 2013.

Joining businesses at the official launch on Friday (March 22nd) were partners from Northamptonshire County Council, Northampton Borough Council and Stagecoach.

The newly extended bus service – designed to extend transport options, to encourage staff to leave their cars at home and to enable those without their own transport to seek work on the estate – is part of a five year £450,000 investment by the county council into estate bus provision.

To support the new service, the estate, through its Business Improvement District (BID) pot of funding, has invested in new bus stops, signage and an improved road infrastructure.
Sara Homer, Chair of Brackmills BID, said: “Since becoming a BID people have been asking us for better buses and more transport options so we are delighted to launch this new service and to be working with the council and Stagecoach to do this."

“We are confident that this extended bus service will help people across the county access employment at our 150 businesses on the estate. Ultimately, our aim is to provide people on the estate with travel choices and options.”

Hmmm?
Steve Burd, Managing Director of Stagecoach Midlands, added: “We are delighted to be extending bus provision on Brackmills and to be improving links from the eastern side of Northampton. The future of this service is secure for several years, to allow time for this to develop into a fully commercial service.”

Hmmm again?
David Farquhar, Assistant Director of Highways, Transport and Infrastructure at Northamptonshire County Council, said: “We have been working with Brackmills for several years in a bid to introduce more sustainable transport. We have come across obstacles, including the withdrawal of Government funding, so this is a milestone and an exciting development.”

We have already seen the magnificence of the 51 and 53 (Big Deal!) but the icing on the cake was the arrival of Stagecoach service 1. Another historic Northampton route reaches Brackmills.
The former Weston Favell (The Trumpet) route was extended into the eastern districts progressively as the new parts of the town developed. It now runs every 10 minutes.

The cunning plan was to extend two buses every hour (Monday to Friday only) from the town's bus station to Brackmills following the 23 route as far as the Barclaycard bus station (a k a Pavilion Drive) ...
... but without the loop via Caswell Road.
On Saturdays the 1 was extended only as far as the Northampton Hospital, birthplace of your esteemed blogger!

Which brings us from 2013 to June this year.

From June 10th, service 1 was revised and further extended from Barclaycard via Gowerton Road and Landimore Road (unnamed on map below) to Wootton Fields.
The route is still half hourly but now runs on Saturdays as well. Such was the shock of this development that Gerald was not told and thus, on the first Saturday of operation, the Barclaycard bus station remained locked and barred.
Things were better when our Northampton correspondent took an explanatory ride.
And there were passengers!

Wootton Fields is part of the ever splurging town.
It is already served by route 3, hourly from the town centre via London Road and Wootton Village and, with the new service 1, three buses an hour seems very generous for what look like car owning residences,
The link via Landimore Road ...
... is hardly replete with potential custom; just streetlamps and a few bushes. Maybe there is more to come and Stagecoach have been bravely speculative? Or has somebody found yet more cash to support this extension?

There again, the £450,000 improvement fund runs out next year, so maybe this is an attempt to find cash customers to keep the whole service going.

But in true bus timetabling style, route 1 had a few modifications.
There are journeys to warehouse-land (ASDA, Travis Perkins et al on Gowerton Road) and one trip that nips quickly via the A45 to get to Barclaycard. It adds to the challenging and interesting variety at Brackmills.

Wouldn't it be better if the whole caboodle were rolled up into one service with one route number and one easy-to-understand timetable?

1, 23, 51, 53 and 108 could become 1, 1A and 1E (E for Eastern District) and follow the same route round the estate. 

No, silly idea!

P.S. You don't need to catch the 108 lunchtime shuttle from Barclaycard to Town Centre to quench thirst and pangs of hunger. All the richness of the UK's top catering outlets is available just along Caswell Road.
Gourmet meals at their very best worst (?). Hey ho, a bun and a coffee at Greggs is not at all bad.

 Next Blandford Bridge blog : Thursday 29th June 

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Brackmills Buses Bewilder (2)

Is This The Best We Can Do?
During fbb's childhood and youthhood little changed "on the buses" in Northampton. The Military Road circular (20) was withdrawn and the 5 to Five Bells was extended to Chalcombe  Avenue as 24 and 25. But the decision in the early sixties to double the size of the town had a progressive and dramatic effect on its bus services.

A new district centre opened beyond Weston Favell village (former service 1 terminus "The Trumpet") and a whole raft of new routes to the new "Eastern District" started in a "big bang" of change.

The first significant industrial estate was at Moulton Park. fbb remembers it in its early days with dedicated buses sploshing through builders mud and carrying no passengers because there were few sites trading. But at least the buses were there when workers started being employed.
A Levi Strauss warehouse and the Nationwide Building Society were early employers; but clearly bus services were never likely to be profitable in the early days. Below are service 304 (journeys extended from Southfields) and 308 (exclusive to Moulton Park.
As the area developed a better service was justified, and thus today we have a half hourly service 7 Monday to Saturday, enhanced by shift-time specials on service 54 and 58.
The same problem has dogged Brackmills. Barclaycard is a big employer with its offices surrounded by large car parks.
It, and other office complexes, have their own mini bus station on Pavilion Drive, seen in the picture below on a non working day, locked and barred!
Much of greater Brackmills is dedicated to huge warehouses, distribution centres for big retail names. On Gowerton Road we pass Panasonic ...
... then ASDA ...
... with Wickes and Travis Perkins being their neighbours.
So what sort of bus service does this huge estate get?

If you scroll back to the ancient NCT map above, you will see service 23 to Midsummer Meadow. "Middy Medder" was the home of Northampton's popular outdoor swimming pool ...
... but there was industry there.
There was "The Avon" (still there but reduced in size) and the electricity power station (gone) plus United Counties depot and works (long gone). But the 23 only ever managed journeys at works times and shift-change tines.
But Brackmills rejuvenated this odd little service and, today, the 23 serves significant parts of the estate but still only at works times.
If fbb's calculations are right, the service needs two buses with light running in the peak contra-flow direction. So expensive to provide and, obviously (?), a subsidised service. It's operator nowadays is Country Lion.
This particular bus was formerly in the Arriva London fleet ...
... conveniently already painted in the new company's red!

The route of the extended historic 23 is straightforward ...
... calling at Barclaycard bus station en route round a terminal loop.

Country Lion's involvement with Brackmills and Barclaycard is not ended, however. On the assumption that employees may wish to pop up to the town centre in their lunch hour (lunch break?), there are lunchtime return trips on service 108.
The route is less impressive!
And here is P4 CLN between trips at Northampton's bus station.
No doubt our Northampton correspondent can explain why it is numbered 108. fbb thinks there was a batch of works services numbered in the 100s a few years ago, of which the 108 is the only remnant.

So far we have had two different routes to and around the Brackmills industrial estate.

Tomorrow three more route numbers all using different combinations of the road network, with one of the routes having two baffling variations, just to confuse us all.

 Next Brackmills blog : Wednesday 28th June