Saturday, 6 February 2016

Southern Electric Electrified fbb [1]

An Inspiring Book
This was the imposing (?) entrance to Northampton County Library, located in the Angel Street basement of some extensive administrative buildings near the town centre. It is where a youthful fbb went every Saturday with parents and where he was encouraged to borrow books.

The Library moved across the road to the former CWS cheese warehouse on Guildhall Road ...
... and later merged with the imposing and awesome Borough library in Abington Street.
But back in the poky basement days, one volume caught fbb's eye; it was Southern Electric by G T Moody. It had a picture of a strange looking train on the front.
But the book wasn't just about how wonderful trains were; it explained, in considerable detail, how the lines south of the Thames had been converted to electric power. He borrowed the book and read it avidly. Thus it was that the spotty child began to develop an interest, not in collecting numbers, but in the whole business of the business of railways. It was early days, but the seeds had been sown.

In 1957, Ian Allan Publishing produced the first edition of G.T. Moody's Southern Electric, which was a detailed history of the development and operation of the Southern's electric network. Over the next 20 years, the book was to appear in a total of five editions, the last appearing in 1979, with each edition chronicling the changes to have affected the network over the period.

Copies of that first edition are still available from Amazon.
It is more 106 years since the pioneering work on the construction of the world's largest suburban electric railway network commenced. Initially developed by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway with overhead power ...
... and later by the London & South Western Railway with a third rail ...
... and standardised on the latter after the Southern railway was created in 1923.

The book ran to several editions and fbb eventually bought the 1968 version ...
... again still available from the usual sources.
The 1979 edition was the last to carry G T Moody's own name ...
... and you can spend a thumping great wedge on a new copy!
Then in 2001, John Glover, a prolific writer on the London scene ...
... penned an updated version in the spirit of Mr Moody.
It is the blurb from this edition that has supplied the "blue" quotes above. The text continues:-

In the 20 years since the last edition was published, there have been radical changes affecting the erstwhile Southern electric network, and it is appropriate at the start of a new century to re-examine the history of operations of the third-rail network that serves southern England. This new edition, compiled by John Glover, follows the principle established with the successful revamping of London's Underground in adopting a larger format than that used in the previous five editions which allows for better presentation of the many photographs and maps that supplement the authors' erudite and detailed text.

It is gratifying (to fbb at least!) to have the blurb writer recognise that "the start of the 21st century" was on January 1st 2001, and not one year earlier when there were still 365 days of the 20th century to run. Pedants of the World unite!

So what is good about this book?

fbb will pick out some snippets tomorrow, but, in the meantime, G T Moody solved an intriguing problem raised by adverts for Hovis bread.
There were five of those "funny" electric trains lined up, each with a letter of the brand name displayed in the headcode panel; including the lower case "o" with a line on top (a tilde - of sorts).
That little line eventually disappeared ...
... leaving just a lower case "o".
It transpires that the headcodes are all genuine as follows:-
Purists please note that the Hovis headcode "tilde" was a straight line, not a wiggly one.

An odd connection, electric trains and a gritty loaf, but fbb always was well bread. (Groan)

 Next S R blog : Sunday 7th February 

Friday, 5 February 2016

South West Falcon Compared ...

... with Megabus, CrossCountry and National Express.
The Falcon service runs approximately hourly from 0500 (with somewhat earlier departures on Mondays to Fridays to compensate for traffic conditions) until 1500 then 1615, 1730, 1830, 2030, 2200, 2330, 0130 and 0330 seven days a week. It is a truly impressive schedule and a very "courageous" step into a new market for Uncle Brian Souter's innovative team.

What is more impressive is to compare it with what is available at the moment. 

Train is much, much faster; with Deutsche Bahn (CrossCountry) ...
... also offering an hourly service ...
... taking a tad over two hours. For travel time there is no comparison; but when fares are part of the equation ...  We shall look at fares below.

Then we look at National Express.
NatEx is a bit "all things to all men/women" offering a variety of stops between Plymouth and Bristol. fbb has extracted the timetable from a typically complex leaflet.
There are five journeys each day between Plymouth and Bristol ...
... with additional trips via Exeter and further east.

The final competitor for Stagecoach South West is ... Stagecoach South West ...

... in the form of Megabus.
Again, we are offered five journeys.

This time, South West Falcon beats the other hands down; although running time is often a little longer (but not much!) helped by NOT running into central locations except at Plymouth and Bristol.
What about fares?

Although Megabus used to focus on a very cheap "from" fare of £1.50, journeys on 15th February are offered at £11 single and on 15th March at £8. Book well ahead and you will get the cheapest offers.

National Express also offers "selective pricing", a fashion whereby you can never know what your fare will be until you are ready to make a booking. Plymouth Bristol SINGLE fares are on offer between £10 and £18 depending on date and time. An open return is £42.

Single fares on the train are much much higher. An off peak single is £39.70 with "Advance" singles (and VERY restricted) for February 15th showing as £27.90. Off peak returns are £56.50.

South West Falcon is offering this fare table.
Plymouth Bristol shows as £22 single but £25 return. 

Trying to evaluate all this is very difficult; but it would appear that the best bet by far is a return on South West Falcon if there are no worries about a longer journey time. It also offers total flexibility, although the web site does not explain how long a validity is available on returns.

If you want cheap singles, but with less options, Megabus can save you money, but so can National Express if you opt for journey specific fares. But you are always restricted to your chosen schedule.

If you choose rail for speed, you have to pay for it.

What about comfort? Falcon and CrossCountry ALL have on board toilets; National Express say that "the majority" have loos. Only Cross Country has refreshments on board. From the pictures already published, it looks as of Falcon has better seats than the rather poky ambiance of a CrossCountry voyager.
CrossCounntry's stations in Plymouth and Bristol are less convenient for the city centres than the coach terminals.

In the end personal preference is the decision-making determinant.

And more Falcon stops? The timetable leaflet (from which the extract is presumably taken) add extra stops to the list already published.  

coaches only stop at places shown in the timetable and these extra stops
Astor Field in Plymouth
any stop between Brent Knoll, Fox & Goose and Bristol Airport
Bridgwater Road, Ashton Gate and Bristol Waterfront in Bristol

We are also told ...

Falcon is an express coach link for long distance journeys, local journeys cannot be made.

And there is this mysterious note ...

A through ticket must be bought on boarding for the full length of your journey. If you wish to split your journey into sections you must disembark and catch a later coach.

fbb cannot work out what that means. Why would anyone want to disembark and then catch the same coach. To have a fag? To buy a snack? The latter would be impossible at any one of the intermediate stops anyway. fbb wonders whether there is something lurking in the cunning brain of Stagecoach-management-man that is keeping options open for doing something "weird" with fares.

Any ideas out there?

But we are sill NOT told what "local journeys" are.

Falcon is an express coach link for long distance journeys, local journeys cannot be made.

Can you ride from Bristol Airport to Bristol centre? Can you ride from Exeter or Taunton to Cullompton? Can you ride (if you dare!) from Drumbridges roundabout to Brent Knoll?

A prediction. Assuming Stagecoach can negotiate a reasonable OAP rate, fbb expects the service to be eventually registered as a bus route so you can make local journeys and Uncle Brian can get back his Fuel Duty Rebate or whatever it might be called today.

But, whichever way you look at it, The Falcon is a superb bargain for the first two weeks and a jolly good deal thereafter. fbb is still excited.

On Sunday the next batch of emergency timetable changes are introduced in Sheffield. First Bus has a list ...
... including thee above and a few others. Sadly (and no surprise) First's web site makes nary a mention of the actual timetables.

Stagecoach keeps it more general, plus a few specific notes where other changes are being introduced.

Timetable changes on services
1, 7, 25, 52, 83a, 86, 88, 120 and SL2
are being made to improve punctuality and reliability.

And, whippity dooh dah, the new timetables are available to download.

You have to watch your step and new and old are intermingled; it is esy to grab the wrong page.

These changes are timetable tweaks "to improve reliability", having, in some cases, already tweaked to improve reliability in January. Will this be a monthly event? When might we expect stability?

Our Sheffield spy (John) is also out looking for printed timetables.

John suggests that we don't hold our breath!

Well ... if you don't tell the passengers when the buses run, they probably won't travel. Thus it will be much easier to run to time. Problem solved?

 Next electric blog : Saturday 6th February 

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Finding Phil's Phillimore Fiction [2]

... And Ends With An App.
The timetable for route 6 shows a bus every 30 minutes via Bowden Wood and terminating at Littledale. Traveline is the same ...
... as is the timetable from Travel South Yorkshire.
But therein lies a snag. Littledale Mather Road is shown as the terminus. So the table for the opposite direction starts at Mather Road aka Acres Hill School.
They are the same place!
This means there are no inward (to City) journeys from Bowden Wood. Journey planners make you walk rather than allowing you to catch the bus!
It is obvious what is needed. The inward table simply needs a "Bowden Wood" line as below.
Then the journey planners will work properly. When fbb wrote critically about this stupidity in a previous blog, some angry anonymous insisted that the timetable could not be presented "properly" because of the rules of the Traffic Commissioners.


But it could be that an attempt by T M Travel to overcome this anguish in their app might explain the silliness of service 6.
The route is described as "Sheffield - Darnall" with no mention of the cross city Tesco bit.

As explained by Phil Stockley himself, boss of T M Travel, you can track each bus; see how late (or not) it is running and calculate how long it will be before the purple people carrier ...
... pops up to provide passage for the passenger.

So this 6 is going to Millhouses Tesco** (the blue band obscuring the white on red "6 to Millhouses" is caused by the wongler that allows fbb to view his phone on the latop) ... 
But this map-based information is correct.

And this 6 is also going to Millhouses.
Correct; and it is "running on time".

And here is bus number 3.
It is on Greenland Road going "to Millhouses". But it isn't. It is on its way to Littledale! Utterly the wrong direction.
And it will come as no surprise that bus No 4 ia on its way to ...
... Millhouses, again going away from Tesco past the University. It, too, is going the wrong way!

This panel says it is at Western Bank. 

Therein is another snag. Service 6 does not run via Western Bank. Here is the Traveline map which proves it!
The 6 uses Glossop Road (green line) with Western Bank being the red road (not used by 6) road the the top of the map.

So we have two buses going in the wrong direction and at least one completely incorrect piece of route information. There are more. There is no correct usable timetable available and the journey planners gives wrong information.

Whose fault is this?

An fbb motto, oft repeated, is that you must never let the technology tail wag the information dog. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the technology; the problem is the daft way in which it is used. The data which drives the App for service 6 is seriously flawed and, apparently, nobody has noticed. Or perhaps nobody cares. Or perhaps nobody uses it. Or, more worryingly, perhaps nobody knows that it is wrong.

Or maybe people have noticed but just accept that information about public transport is intrinsically daft. Or maybe nobody knows how to put it right.

fbb has been described as a dinosaur; one comment writer suggested that there was little chance of the chubby one being dragged into the modern technological age. After all, he wants a timetable book - snigger snigger.

In fact, fbb is well impressed with technology of the T M Travel App; it does useful and exciting things. Once that usefulness is explained or explored it has considerable potential. But it falls down because it simply isn't right. Getting the data "right" involves hard work and one of these ...
Both can be in short supply when it comes to Public Transport Information. It is just too easy to dish up dodgy data, even in a well designed piece of software.

Rant over. fbb now goes into hiding in the bloggers' safe house as Phil Stockley explodes!

And a big thank you to those blog readers who pointed out the anomalies. They did wish to remain anonymous!

** Millhouses Tesco : It is misleading to call it "Millhouses" and even more misleading to call it "Abbeydale" as T M Travel does. Abbeydale is the dale within which is located Beauchief Abbey and it is a couple of miles away. But Tesco calls itself "Abbeydale"! Frankly, the best label is "Tesco Abbeydale Road" but even this is not ideal.

 Next bus blog : Friday 5th February