Saturday, 7 March 2015

Fearnley Launches New Rail Service

And Other Stories ...
One of the delights of a return to railway modelling is that fbb can excercise the whimsies of his fertile imagination. The Peterville Quarry Railway, you will remember (why should you?), is meant to represent a fictitious preservation society's efforts to assemble, not a collection of locomotives, but examples of the many and varied types of passenger coach operated on the UK's lines.

Thus it was that famille Fearnley popped in on Saturday 28th ult for a mini Birthday bash. It was appropriate to launch the model "fun train"; a light hearted version of the open "carriages" enjoyed by the "lower orders" in the early days of our rapidly growing railway network.

Here is the ceremonial tape (source unrevealed, but guessable).
Here is Fearnley (junior) waving the train into the platform.
And the train does, indeed, break the tape without derailing.
Later, the orange and green trucks are filled with additional people and the blue with a selection of farm animals to illustrate the rigours of early train travel! Note that the "doors" of the passenger trucks are painted a contrasting colour as per today's rules!
A re-creation of the Rainhill locomotive trials staged in 1980 illustrates the history.
fbb is fairly sure hat the venom of Health and Safety jobsworths would be unleashed on any Preservation Society that tried to do this for real. The modern "Locomotion" train at the Beamish Open Air Museum has been "enhanced" with a complete up-to-date braking system! It is "hidden" in the front slope-sided mineral wagon.
It won't be long before seat belts are required despite that fact that the train barely exceeds a brisk walking pace.

Northampton National Express Nonsense
There is some evidence that National Express facilities ...
... are dire with one recently added expensive (and potentially unreliable) plastic toilet ...
... to hearten coach travellers. The waiting experience is appalling. Cue a picture used repeatedly by fbb.
Now we hear that the town's politicians have come up with yet another cunning plan to cope with the too-small Northgate bus station. They re-investigating building  new coach (and possibly bus for some routes only) "interchange". Guess where?

Yep! On the site of the soon-to-be demolished Greyfriars bus station cum mausoleum! But, before this extra is built, another cunning plan provides a further looney twist to the tail.

In the evenings, most National Express services will vacate the lavish coachway on Victoria Street and stop ...

... wait for it ...

... on bay 14 in the new bus station!
So, not only will NatEx passengers still be able to wait in the cold most of the time, they will also need to allow time to sprint between Northgate and Victoria Street to find their coach - more likely to miss their coach!

But if you turn left at the end there, you are in Sheep Street. At the junction of Sheep Street and Greyfriars is a nice bit of greenery which would accommodate a couple of bus stands. The back entrance to Northgate is on the right.
Move some infrequent bus services to here and make Stands 13 and 14 available for National Express all the time. No charge, Northampton Council, for common sense advice!

First Kernow Customer Service
The 14 working days are very up, and not a dicky bird from Cornwall. Well it wouldn't be, because the team that is incapable of looking up a fare is based in Southampton. "Falmouth, where's that?" "Dunno, must be a hoax email." "What is First Kernow anyway?"

And a Higer Bus?
fbb though it was a misprint for a Higher bus!
But, in fact, Higer Bus is Chinese.
First have got one to play with at Taunton (Higer not higher). Rumours on the street suggest that this is part of a complex and interwoven contract to transport workers to the new Hinkley Point nuclear power station site. The job is huuuuge with massive road works under way before even a tiny uranium rod is dropped by the roadside.
Hinkley Point is on the North Somerset Coast and nowhere near Hinckley in Leicestershire.

If you go off to the coast today
You're sure of a big surprise.
If you go off to the coast today
You'd better go in disguise!

For every bus that ever there was
Will gather there for certain, because
It'll soon be the day that
EDF gets all nuclear.

Nuclear time for EDF
The Higer buses will have 
A lovely time that day.
Watch them, catch them unawares,
And see them travel ev'ry working day.

See them gaily gad about.
They love to play and shout,
They never make any fuss;
At every shift the comany's managers
Will take them home to bed,
For each is a tired little Higer bus
If you go off to the coast today,
There's lots spent at Hinkley C!
The contract's huge so they say,
Big profits there's bound to be!

For ev'ry bus that ever there was
Will gather there for certain, because
It'll soon be the day that
EDF gets all nuclear.

First have, so far, announced that the Chinese bus is "on test".

 Next rail blog : Sunday 8th March 

Friday, 6 March 2015

New Face for a Pacer (4 of a Series)

Porterbrook's Prophetic Proposals?
As delivered, Pacers were, indeed, a Leyland National bus on a rail chassis. They were wider but used standard side panels. The extra width allowed five bus seats across, adequate for short-hop local journeys but intrinsically uncomfortable in all directions for inter-urban use.

So the Pacers were refurbished with "better" 2 + 2 seats.
The seats were certainly more comfortable, but the vehicles still bounced about like a ride at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
We now know "officially" that the government (via its ministry DaFT) has told the bidders for the next "Northern" franchise that they must provide for Pacer Replacement. This is an extract of the "official" letter from one government "grey suit" to another. Click on the extract to enlarge it.
What the letter does not explain is how the bidders are going to do it. "Cheap" diesel units simply don't exist and replacing the Pacers will necessarily  increase tender prices at a time when HMG wants to reduce the amount that it pays to the railways. Time for a post-election "volte-face"????

You bet!

So Porterbrook's idea of a more substantial fettling-up of these despised little trains might yet be a good business plan.

Details are outlined in their post "Buy Your Pacer's Here" brochure.
The big change is the fitting of a disabled toilet module. Two wheelchairs are accommodated at the "join" between the two cars and the gangway is widened to allow disabled access.
Note also the significant reduction in seating. That will thrill commuters into Leeds and Manchester but at least the "new" Pacers will comply with all the necessary regulations. And the computer simulation certainly looks OK.
And, of course, thy will get "next stop" displays.
The refurbishment will ensure complicance and improve the travelling environment but what of the all important works under the floor. Porterbrook explains:-

The drive train of all Class 14X units has been completely re-engineered since their introduction so most of the key equipment is less than 20 years old. The modifications were started by British Rail and completed by Porterbrook, the while fleet being converted by 1995. The units capitalised on the success of the “Sprinter” series of trains for their new drive train while bringing in new equipment to overcome early problems. The components changed from the original build were:-

• Cummins engine
• Voith gearbox
• Peters Doors
• AFFF Fire protection system
• Alternator raft
• Direct Acting Brake

This means that given the same standard of maintenance these vehicles are capable of returning Class 15X reliability. A relatively recent modification to the vehicles has been done to improve crashworthiness by providing “crush tubes” between the vehicle body and underframe. The vehicles do not use the “integral construction” of larger vehicles but are constructed with a separate body and underframe. The body rests on resilient mounts on the underframe, providing a form of secondary suspension.

That looks very much like a "no change" policy.

So the dilemma for Porterbook and the train operators remains "challenging". Mr Government wants new trains and nobody makes anything like the Pacers in terms of cost. An extra £800,000 upgrade will make the existing trains more costly to lease but much, much, LESS costly than leasing new ones.

But there is another scare story going the rounds.

An MP has warned that the Government’s Transport Ministry may look to replace Northern Rail’s “pacer” trains with equally ageing former London Underground trains.

Mr Blenkinsop, who uses the trains which operate from Middlesbrough and Darlington to Nunthorpe and Saltburn, said: “The influential railway industry source, the Rail Business Intelligence Bulletin has become aware of a proposal to convert London Underground District Line D78 units (already 30-years-old and being decommissioned by London Underground) ...

... into diesel engine carriage sets for use on North of England commuter lines like the ones in my constituency.”

He continued: “This worries me as a local rail service user, we don’t want to see veteran trains replaced by equally ageing old London Underground trains which will be nothing more than vintage carriages with a diesel engine bolted on to them.

“I have a simple message to coalition transport ministers - just get rid of the Pacers.

Of course the Government says there are no plans for the D78s ...

but ...

Watch this space!

 Tomorrow, fbb exclusive : Fearnley opens new Railway service! 

 Next bus/rail blog : Saturday 7th March 

Thursday, 5 March 2015

What Place a Pacer (3 of a Series)

Remember Skippers?

Sardines, or pilchards, are common names used to refer to various small, oily fish within the herring family of Clupeidae. The FAO/WHO Codex standard for canned sardines cites 21 species that may be classed as sardines; FishBase, a comprehensive database of information about fish, calls at least six species "pilchard", over a dozen just "sardine", and many more with the two basic names qualified by various adjectives.

For fbb, this was an iconic tin of "sardines" ...
... now more commonly branded as John West.
But this, also, was a skipper:-
While all other parts of the UK called these little beauties (?) "Pacers", the western region of British Rail decided a more appropriate name was "Skippers"; and they painted them in a happily nostalgic chocolate and cream. The trouble was that they didn't go round the corners. Well, they did; but they squealed in protest like so many stuck pigs and this was symptomatic of damaged track and damaged wheel sets.

The wheelbase was too long for the sharply curved ex Great Western Branches; so the Skippers got the traditional seafarer's "Heave Ho me Hearties" and were sent off to Wales and the North. And good riddance say all of us!

fbb's model Pacer (aka Skipper) does go round the corners on his model railway. Were the chassis to be authentic, the units would grind to a Western region shuddering halt on the unrealistically sharp curves that are necessary on a model. But the clever lads at Hornby have though of that.

Turning one half unit upside down ...
... the eagle-eyed can see that he right hand pair of wheels, fixed in a rigid chassis in the 12 inches to the foot version, is ...
... a pivotted pony truck. The ruse is duplicated on the second car thus ensuring that the model does go round corners.

Real squeaky pacers have appeared in five forms. The original Leyland National bus on a rail chassis:-
Class 140 (experimental two car).
Class 141 and similar class 142.
Classes 143 and 144 only distinguishable by hard-nosed rivet counters.
And, despite the venom with which these trains are often greeted, there is a Pacer Preservation Society ...
... complete with an alliteratively titled magazine. Several early units are already operating on Heritage railways.

Pacers have also toured the world (?) to promote sales, alas unsuccessfully. This one was ...
... adapted for metre gauge lines and is seen here in an unidentified far off land (?).

But, all said and done, these little trains remain an exclusively UK phenomenon. Many wish they weren't!

But what have Porterbrook proposed by way of an £800,000 upgrade?

 Coming on Saturday : Fearnley opens new Railway service! 
Whilst writing Falmouth blogs, fbb whizzed of an email to First-in-all-sorts-of-places-way-out-West. What, please was the single and day return fare from Falmouth to Truro?  Back came the ever-helpful reply on Monday 16th February:-


Local Operator: Devon, Cornwall & Mid Somerset

Address: Downsell Barn Bells Hill,
Mylor Bridge,
not known on holiday

Fare please from Truro to Falmouth
Day return if available

Thank you for contacting us. We aim to respond to all enquiries within 14 working days, but hope to respond sooner. If you have not heard from us within this time, please accept our apologies and contact us by phone on the number shown on our website.

14 working days is today, assuming First Bus doesn't work at weekends. Perhaps driving buses on Saturday and Sunday isn't "working"? It's a real challenge looking up a fare; it takes great skill and a huge amount of time, don't  you know. fbb is eagerly awaiting the reply. More news tomorrow!
 Last Pacer blog : Friday 6th March 

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Silliness at Stranraer [4]

In 1953, there was a bus every two hours from Glasgow to Stranraer via Ayr and calling at Cairnryan. (click on any of the three panels to enlarge)
This was supplemented by short working journeys from Stranraer, presumably to suit the Navy as it pottered about its port. British Railways ferries ran from Stranraer, of course.
There were also buses from Dumfries ...
... every two hours but with a first Stranraer arrival as late as 1100. But way back then there were train connections direct on to the gangplank of the ferry from the South, from Newcastle and from Glasgow.

Today, the bus service from Ayr is much the same but through journeys from Glasgow are by Citylink/Ulsterbus as per yesterdays blog. Likewise the 500 from Dumfries. There is very little difference in 60 years! 

So we can ask Traveline for a journey from London (England!) to Cairnryan (Scotland) and back comes a list of 8 possibilities.
Ferry departures from Stena are as below ...
... and from P and O:
The most impressive schedule is for just under 7 hours and offering a potential connection with a 1930 sailing from Stena and a 2000 departure from P & O.  If we expand this journey ...
... we see that, for Traveline Scotland, "London" is Victoria Station; but we, virtually, may start at Euston. There is plenty of time to change at Carlisle into a National Express (NatEx) coach, service 921. NatEx timetables appear and disappear from their web site at erratic intervals. Searching for Stranraer or Cairnryan on the current web site is fruitless.

Timetable finder
Instead of listing all of our many destinations, we've made it easy for you to download and print timetables for our most popular routes. Just type in the name of your nearest town, city or airport into the box below and choose from the list that appears.

Thankfully, Traveline Scotland reveals all. Service 921 runs from Birmingham to the P & O terminal; but not, apparently serving the "opposition" a mile or so further north.
The service is technically joint with Ulsterbus which maybe why it is disowned by the NatEx website; we found the same UDI for the 923 from Edinbrgh and Glasgow yesterday.

But what about overnight?
A schedule is on offer via the soon to be re-branded Caledonian sleeping car trains. 
Being Traveline you would expect nonsense and a couple of walks (a) from Dumfries Rail Station to Dumfries Railway Station and (b) from Port Rodie Tesco to Port Rodie Ferry Terminal are just plain silly. The 8 minute connection at Carlisle looks decidedly risky!

But Traveline is unable to find the overnight run that, fbb guesses, would be the most popular and the most convenient. It is another National Express secret!
Sitting on a coach for ten hours is not fbb's kind of fun, BUT ...
... it takes about the same amount of time as not sleeping in the through rail sleeper (The Northern Irishman) of the "good old days". The coach will be massively cheaper, too.
Whoops forgot. NatEx disowns the service. Give Up.
Ulsterbus brochure for fares from Belfast

But will it be cheaper? According to ...
Sssshh, it's a secret! You can buy cheap combined train & ferry tickets between Belfast and London or any station in Britain, in either direction, via either Cairnryan-Belfast, Holyhead-Dublin, or Liverpool-Belfast, see the route map below. One price covers the train & the ferry all on one ticket. It's the traditional, time-honoured way to get there, through the countryside by train and across the Irish Sea by ferry, the environmentally-friendly alternative to a short-haul flight.

And there it is. London to Belfast via Glasgow, Ayr and Cairnryan for ...
... £35 single! It is, of course, a schedule that Traveline doesn't offer.
Public transport is just so easy!

 Next Pacer blog : Thursday 5th March