Saturday, 21 September 2019

Something for the Weekend? (one)

Isle of Wight - New Trains
Announced this week is confirmation of the future for First Island Line. Backed by DaFT, South Western Railway has ordered three two car trains from VivaRail. These are ex London Underground "surface" stock (i.e. big trains not tube trains) and will be designated Class 484.
That classification implies "normal" third rail power, despite earlier hints that battery or hybrid might be more sensible in view of the poor state of the "electrics" between Ryde and Sandown. Also promised in a loop at Brading to allow a proper 30 minute frequency "matching the ferries". 

Actually the Portsmouth to Ryde passenger ferry is an hourly service for most of the year increasing to every half hour only for the summer period.

No one is saying when the loop will be built!

fbb wrote recently that gauging tests had been carried out in the Ryde tunnel. What he failed to grasp is that these were done in 1983!
This piccy appears in the current (and excellent) issue of  Modern Railways. The cunning plan back then was to use class 503 units ex Merseyrail.

Isle of Wight - New Bridge?
When fbb saw this headline (forwarded by two correspondents), he first though that someone was proposing getting rid of the Cowes to East Cowes floating bridge completely and utterly.

That would be a hugely controversial deal. Many years ago, the Council announced that it would build a replacement road bridge. Pictures even appeared on the side of a Southern Vectis bus!

But no - it was merely another episode in the long running saga of the unreliability of the current vessel.
A local councillor had demanded that the present "Bridge Number 6" be disposed of and another replacement ordered.

Cllr Karl Love, of the East Cowes ward ...
... posted a statement on Facebook, calling for No.6 to be sent back and a replacement bridge ordered.

He said: "The floating bridge is an embarrassment to our people and council leadership. Once again the floating bridge fails.

"This has been a fiasco and failure from the beginning, costing taxpayers millions of pounds extra to simply keep it running.

"One cannot comprehend the position taken by Cllr Ian Ward and Cllr Dave Stewart, who have consistently stated the bridge is a good reliable service.

"What is it that prevents our Isle of Wight Council from taking a positive, proactive approach, ordering a new bridge based on taking out a cheap loan, as they have done with other projects, to admit this bridge is not fit for purpose?

"Our bridge workforce operators cannot get to grips with something that constantly lets them down.

"It’s time to make the decision once and for all."

No one seems to know why the IoW Council has not been compensated for poor reliability by the builders of the ferry. The suggestion is that they failed to incorporate any meaningful guarantee clause in the contract when they bought it!

Trouble at 't' Mill in Edinburgh
The local press has reported serious staff shortages with Lothian Transport, the council-owned company that runs Edinburgh's buses and trams.
Lothian are up to 200 bus drivers short of a full roster which has lead to vehicles being taken off the road, passengers left stranded before terminus points and backroom staff behind the wheel. In August, Lothian said it could not cope with the additional crowds caused by the Festival and roadworks which the company said caused significant delays and disruption.

The issues were instead blamed on poor management by managing director Richard Hall ...
... and a driver shortage.

On the weekend of 5 and 6 September, more than 40 buses were off the road each day due to a lack of staff causing several delays and cancellations.

It has also been claimed that the Lothian training centre has not supplied one driver to the city bus service in 14 months, instead choosing to staff Lothian Country and East Coast Buses as the company expands. 

A spokesperson for Lothian said: “Significant demands were placed on Lothian services during the summer period, and our appreciation is expressed to our drivers and staff, many of whom worked overtime, for their brilliant efforts to keep Edinburgh moving. Our ongoing programme of driver and staff recruitment and training is continuing in the coming months and this will help to ensure that Lothian continues to maintain its high levels of customer satisfaction.”
Lothian Buses has expanded significantly over the last few years, initially in East Lothan by taking over First Bus services and later in West Lothian in competition with First.

Has the company bitten off more than it can chew?

It's Just The Ticket
Sheffield Supertram began its operations with a continental style of ticketing.You were obliged to buy your ticket in advance, either in packs from shops or from machines at the stops. Then you had to validate the ticket before travelling.

The system was over-complex, unpopular and open to abuse.

When Stagecoach took over, they introduced conductors to take your fare and issue tickets.
With the growth in the use of "contactless" payment, tram passengers were disadvantaged as it was cash or pass only.

Now Stagecoach is trialling new machines which will accept cards.
fbb experienced one of these machines on his return trip on the Tram Train to Parkgate but, as an OAP, did not experience a ticket issuing event. Chum David, however, bought a day rover with actual money and received a paper ticket.

It was a non-event!

More Moor Street to New New Street
See yesterday's blog for the first experience!

Yesterday the fbbs returned to their ancestral pile in Seaton, a journey involving the return trek from Birmingham's Moor Street to New Street station.

Were there adequate directions? A resounding NO!

There was nothing at all inside Moor Street station ...
... and if you went for the "steps" route there was nothing at all.
If, for some mysterious reason, you found yourself taking the "tunnel of doom" route there were signs! They were on the wall as you crossed the scary pedestrian crossings.
The 390 yard version led to the dark and scary route, the "tunnel with fumes".
The new buildings at New Street ought to be very obvious indeed ...
... and they were, seen from the "tunnel of gloom". But nowhere was there any indication on this shiny gloopy edifice that it was a railway station. If, by some fluke of directionality, you got on to Moor Street Link, you might be happier.
But you might ponder awhile how you could avoid the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank headquarters and find your way to the trains.

The station used to be very clearly labelled.
And what was a train operator running between Kings Cross and Bradford/Sunderland doing in Birmingham.
The entrance to Grand Central, apparently, was shown by an orange sign saying "entrance" and nothing else (above bottom left)

Just for completeness fbb had a better look outside the main entrance (at least it was the main entrance before the rebuild) to see if he missed anything as he pass by on Wednesday last.

There was, indeed, a sign that he missed ...
... but it told him zilch about getting to Moor Street.

Rubbish both ways.

Congratulations ...
... to Stagecoach on their much deserved award last week.
Which explains why DaFT has awarded the East Midlands franchise to Abellio, major messer-up of Scotrail. It also explains why Uncle Brian has been banned from ANY franchised operation until he has handed in his 1,000,000 lines ("I must not upset The Department for Transport") to Grant Shapps; and has agreed to waste millions of pounds supporting a Pension Scheme over which he has no control whatsoever.

More bits tomorrow.

 Next "Something for the Weeked" blog : Sunday 22nd September 

Friday, 20 September 2019

Sensible and Satisfactory : Sheffield to Solihull (2)

Stations between Leicester and Birmingham New Street aptly illustrate the nonsense of the UK's rail franchising system. The stations are operated either by East Midlands Railway or West Midlands Railway ...
... but trains from neither company call there. The only passenger services are operated by Arriva CrossCountry Trains! In another financially lucrative field day for the lawyers there must be reams of agreements and caveats sorting out who pays the bills and who gets the filthy lucre.

Just potty!
Coleshill Parkway is a "new station" opened 12 years ago on the site of its predecessor ...
... named just Coleshill, which closed in 1968.
The new facility is bigger and posher and is designed to attract motoring "commuters" from a wide area.
Buses call as well.
the fbb's train stopped but very few boarded or alighted - it may be busier at commuter times.

The old folks were aiming for Solihull and that would involve trekking from New Street Station to Moor Street Station, a journey fbb had never made sufficiently recently to be certain.

"No matter," though the misguided pensioner, "surely, as part of the rebuilding of New Street, a new walk route had been constructed to link the two."
And there it was, nailed spectacularly to the huge retaining wall on the north side of the tracks. It even had an appropriate name, Moor Street Link.
So fbb, accompanied by a bewildered Mrs, strode purposefully out of the station having ditifully followed the helpful signs.
Aiming tentatively northbound, he espied another sign on a pole ...
... which did not mention Moor Street at all. Bravely, but without indicative encouragement, the gruesome twosome toddled along the eponymous walkway.

At the end of the posh bit ...
... they were cordially thanked for using New Street Station and festooned with garlands as a small jazz combo serenaded their departing steps! (Part of the previous sentence is a lie!)

But there was not a single solitary sign guiding them to Moor Street. Should fbb and Mrs tackle the steps?
Remember, they each had a  case on little trundle wheels. I guess they would have gone that way ...
... and descended another set of steps at the far end ...
... had not a helpful Brummie advised a less arduous, but more frighteing route. "Cross the road," she said ...
... the road being the fairly terrifying Smallbrook Queensway / St Martins Queensway. There, across the road, was a dark and threatening walkway that looked as if it were once part of the road.
Other folk were promenading thus, so buoyed by safety in numbers, the fbbs persevered. It was step-free, it was level and it did, amazingly lead to Moor Street Station.
Moor Street is quite a charming, nay even quaint, station - at least it would be if it weren't almost hidden behind several hundred buses performing terrifying traffic manoeuvres!
The Brum locals seemed to know just when to start crossing, even on a red light; and none were actually killed or maimed as the fbbs watched and followed in fear and amazement.

But, exhausted physically and mentally, they just got there in time for their scheduled 1640 to Solihull.

Unfortunately the three car Class 172 was packed to the gunwales with half the academic population if the city ...
... but another wonderfully nice couple of locals offered their seats to the elderly couple who, no doubt, looked on the verge of some serious medical collapse!

But the shambles of this unmarked route is appalling. Surely even the cash-strapped Birmingham City Council could run to a few signs?

And it ISN'T all on line!

By comparison, Solihull was bliss. First call was to Newswave for sarnies and hula hoops, then ...
... all the fbbs had to do was to walk to the far end of the Bus Stands ...
... turn left along the little path ...
... at the far end of which was the B&B. And an early night!

 Next Variety Collection blog : Saturday 21st September 

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Sensible and Satisfactory : Sheffield to Solihull (1)

Blogging plans have been fluid as the fbb's Royal Progress has progressed royally (!). Instead of the "tale of a bus stop" post that was planned, the old man has a few things to say about yesterday's journey.
The schedule was revealed on Tuesday; and remember that the route from Derby to Birmingham via Leicester was a permitted alternative route, as discovered from the runic Routeing Guide, an unprinted volume understood by very few, even ticket collectors and station booking clerks.
The bus ride from the B&B was straightforward until it arrived at Leopold Street in Sheffield. Then the fbb's service 120 joined a queue of stationary buses.
"You might be better walking," proffered the driver, "'cos we ain't going nowhere." Church Street and trams to Hillsborough etc. were also gridlocked.
Resisting the temptation to correct the tautology, fbb and Mrs decided to do just that, commenting that, as soon as they set off, the buses would start moving. They did and they did!

Fortunately the tottering twosome had allowed extra time by dint of catching a Twirly Bus ("you can't use your pass - it's twirly") and paying their fare of £2 each.

No idea what the hold-up was, but it does illustrate how even a small wodge can paralyse a busy modern city.

Upon arrival at the station, fbb was overjoyed to discover that his ride to Leicester was to be in a gorgeous HST ...
... now in the capable hands (?) of Abellio East Midlands Railway.
Normally HSTs only run between St Pancras and Nottingham, so this was a treat; doubly so as EMT HSTs do not have HBSs (high Back Seats) and the view and the bright ambiance of the journey were delightful.
The train was a last minute substitute for a Meridian.

Departure was six minutes late - unexplained, of course, just "waiting for a signal" - but a late arriving (and thus departing) Hope Valley "stopper" was let out before the London train.  

10 down at Derby and there were more delays as the train crawled up to Trent junction; so 13 minutes late was the Leicester arrival. Poor regulation by the signalman.

Encumbered with luggage, the fbbs used Leicester's lift which takes less ambulant personages to a secret and slightly spooky lift users footbridge, with barriers, but bereft of staff.
Of course, their tickets did not work the barriers (quelle surprise, isn't technology wonderful?) so a phone call to somewhere in the bowels of the station ...
... and a showing of said ticket to a camera finally allowed escape. VERY frustrating!
Chum David collected the pair by motor car and the party made its way via coffee at David's pad to the excellent Stamford Arms at groovy Groby. fbb had Gumbo (plentiful and delicious) ...
... and the Mrs had "Woodland Chicken" (ditto).
The pub serves a wide variety and class of personnel ...
After lunch David took a bemused fbb and a disinterested Mrs fbb out to look at the bus stop outside the pub.
Arriva Leicester, stupidly, have ceased producing printed material (because they don't want any more passengers?) so it's either a display at the bus stop or going on-line. The main routes at this stop are ...
... and here is the non-timetable at the bus stop.
So the question of the moment is, "Which buses run to Burton on Trent?"

Answers on a postcard, please, to Arriva's Leicester depot. Or, test you understanding against the on-line PDF timetable at the end of this blog - but don't cheat, mind!

More time for chat, then a drive to Narborough Station for the 1527 Arriva CrossCountry to Birmingham.
Narborough Station closed in 1968 but, following public protest, re-opened in 1970. David parked at the foot of the steps to the "to Birmingham" platform ...
... which allowed fbb to view the station appurtenances from across the tracks.
It hasn't changed much.
The signal box is now disused and automatic barriers replace traditional crossing gates.
What was particularly enjoyable was the proliferation of flower tubs and superb sunflowers.
Well done whoever done it!

A half hourly service operates along the line (hourly from Narborough) ...
... with the xx48 train running all the way from Stansted Airport.

fbb was impressed by the amount of freight that passed by on its way towards Leicester.
fbb spotted three trains of containers as he sped towards Birmingham. Very impressive!

His (and Mrs fbb's) experience at Birmingham will form part of tomorrow's blog.

And here is the extract from Arriva's 29/29A timetable.
Did you get it right?

Also a reminder that Arriva is owned to German State Railways and East Midlands Railway is owned by Dutch State Railways. Nationalised Railways rule OK!

 Next Birmingham blog :Friday 20th September