Tuesday, 21 October 2014

1 : Bolster the Business ...

... or the Business of Bolster?
Let's go to St Agnes.
It is  pretty little village on the north coast of Cornwall south west from Newquay. So who was St Agnes?
Not the above, for sure. But he (or it) is the Bolster Giant which, so ancient legend relates, plagued the village with nastiness including eating naughty children. Despite repeated efforts by village VIPs to defeat the baddy, he/it continued its dastardly deeds of terror. Until the saintly Alice proposed love to the monster. All is revealed in this YouTube video ...
Each year, St Agnes' children take part in a re-enactment. There is no record on-line of how many little ones are scarred for life by the experience!

Until February 1963, the area was served by the Truro and Newquay branch railway; wiggling its way slowly and (presumably) unprofitably between the two towns.
It could hardly be any less direct! Of interest to this blog are the stations at St Agnes itself ...
... which, of course, is some considerable distance from the village at Hurlingbarrow.
But the station building still exists in industrial use but with its large canopy area now filled in.

Of diminutive Goonbell Halt, however ...

... there is no trace. The usual line of vegetation when viewed from the air confirms that the line once ran there.
the station was by the road junction, bottom left.

fbb's 1971 Western national bus timetable book reveals an all-year service 549 via St Agnes and Goonbell from Redruth to Perranporth and Newquay ...
... but operated (almoost exclusively) in two sections Redruth to Perranporth and Perranporth to Newquay. There was also a Summer only 547 limited stop between St Ives and Newquay.

By the start of the new millennium, St Agnes was the in the purview of Truronian's T1 service running between Perranporth (some journeys), Truro and The Lizard.

But, as we can see, in present times St Agnes finds its way into the story of difficulties facing Western Greyhound [WG]. It is currently served by WG route 587 ...
... which mæanders its way, much like the old railway line, through from Truro via the coastal villages to Newquay.

Until October 2013, however, First Bus ran to St Agnes. But no longer. We explore more tomorrow.

Before we move on, however, fbb must draw your attention to a row on miners cottages ...
... cascading down a hillside towards Quay Road. The track (bottom right) is the only access and this path goes by the delightful name of ...
... Stippy Stappy. Bolster the giant and staggering down Stippy Stappy; is there no end to the esoterica entwined within an interest in public transport?

The relaunch of First Portsmouth's routes to Wecock Farm and Waterlooville as "Star" is one year old today. fbb hopes to provide pictures of the event (he was not invited - boo) and the cake as soon as these are received from the Star staff.
 Next bus blog : Wednesday 22nd October 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Good News for Rail Passengers?

Or is it?
Many blog readers will be familiar with the above site
Martin Lewis OBE, Money Saving Expert, is an award-winning campaigning TV and radio presenter, newspaper columnist, author and, according to Google, the most searched-for British man. An ultra-specialised journalist, focusing on cutting bills without cutting back, he founded MoneySavingExpert.com in 2003 for £100. It's now the UK's biggest money site, with over 14m monthly users and 9m receiving the Martin's Money Tips email – and he remains its full-time Editor-In-Chief.

In 2012 Martin sold his web site to the Money Supermarket group which includes ...
... and:-
Recently "Martin" sent out a special email which has set tongues wagging.
New free TicketySplit tool takes on train pricing farce
Same train, same time, even the same seat
just pay less by splitting your tickets 

We've finally cracked it. Our new advanced tickets TicketySplit tool takes on the ridiculous train ticket pricing anomaly that means buying two separate tickets sometimes costs less. It can save some regular travellers £1,000s. Here's an example...

Birmingham to Newquay advance single = £150

This train stopped at Cheltenham so instead the tool suggested...

Birmingham to Cheltenham advance single (£21) plus Cheltenham to Newquay advance single (£44) = just £65.
There are dangers with this site.

Some fares are "Advance" fares offered on specific trains. If you miss a connection, your Advance ticket becomes invalid and you have to pay again. Your "cheap" fare could become very expensive indeed.

The site is linked to "The Trainline.com" which charges booking fees. Most rail company sites charge no fees and for many of them postage is free. You are warned about this on TicketySplit BUT many people will just go ahead and waste a few pounds. It is hard to see why any potential passenger should use The Trainline as all its fares are available on all rail company sites and at ticket offices.

Individual rail companies often have web site special offers for journeys exclusively on their trains. These special fares and discounts are not on The Trainline or Tickety Split.

More seriously, TicketySplit does not (yet!) do returns, justifying this by saying that returns are "often" more expensive than singles. WRONG! With the exception of "Advance" tickets and their accompanying risks (used by only about 3% of rail passengers) return "Saver" (the fare-type most people buy) fares are ALWAYS cheaper than two singles.
So fbb tried a journey, one which he has often used; namely Axminster to Sheffield.

TicketySplit gave fbb a choice of schedules, of which he chose ...
... remembering, as always that these fares were with a Senior Railcard. Clicking on the Split button offered this option.
Savings can be made provided that you don't miss your connection and thus lose the "Advance" leg.
What about coming back? This for a return later the same day.
The Split saved money again ...
... a grand total of 5p!

TicketySplit wants fbb to spend £117.55 (£77.05 plus £40.50).

The National Rail web site (and all other rail company sites) advises exactly the same trains.
But look at the price. 
The off-peak return offers a saving of £31.75 compared with TicketySplit and no restrictions. Any train can be used after 0900 from Axminster.

The return journey (again with some morning peak restrictions) can be on any day up to one month later.

Can our readers spot the best deal?
TicketySplit says "we've finally cracked it." No, they haven't. Without the inclusion of returns, there is a very real possibility that people using the new site will pay more than they need.

All credit to the sponsors of the site for trying their best but fbb would advise EXTREME CAUTION in taking its advice.

On one specific type of query, the system can be helpful. fbb wanted to travel to Truro for the day, but before senior railcards and day returns are available. TicketySplit found an outward single "split" which got him at full price to a point where discounts were available, thereafter discounted. Under these circumstances "Anytime" returns can often be bettered with a mixture of full price singles and discount singles or returns.

Some guidelines.

By all means consult TicketySplit

Avoid fees : don't buy from The Trainline

Check the price of (e.g.) Saver Returns

Remember that returns are nearly always cheaper than two singles**.

Check rail company sites for special operator specific offers.

Beware the dangers of "Advance" fares

** but you may be able to do better if you are lucky enough to find two super-cheap Advance singles.
Just for the record, Tickety Split's example quoted a Birmingham to Newquay fare of £150 SINGLE. The Saver (non OAP) return is ...
... with no significant restrictions. Two single Advance tickets with burdensome restrictions or complicated "splits" might improve on that - if you are lucky and land your ball in the correct slot of the Roulette Wheel on the right day. Remember always that "Advance" fares are dreamed up by a "Deep Throat" computer program and availability is totally unpredictable

What is needed is a complete re-think of ALL rail fares to remove the anomalies at source. Messrs Cleggeron and Faraband could win a hefty number of extra votes if they set such a rethink in motion. One day, when fbb feels confident and/or stupidly brave, he will write a blog explaining how easy it would be to sort it out.

But it would need a complete re-jig of the whole financial structure of the railways and, fbb suspects, no government of any hue has the guts to do it; if, that is, any of the politicians understood it all in the first place.

The political will is not there.
 Next bus blog : Tuesday 21st October 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

1952 : London, Then and Now

"The Enterprise" bus and rail timetable for Northampton included this summary, ...
... offering not much opportunity for a day out by coach in London. OK on Saturday and Sundays, but clearly not considered as a possible profitable business by the company during the week. Fortunately the gift of "stuff" from Clive in Kent also included a United Counties [UC] timetable book for the same year, viz 1952.
The 2.35pm (that's 1435 in the new money) ran Summer only hence its omission from the Winter summary timetable. The service ran via the A50 and A5. Markyate's by pass did not open until 1955 but it was the M1 which revolutionised the Northampton to London run.

In 1959 the new-fangled motorway opened as far as Crick ...
... and this gave the bus companies the opportunity to start new and better services. United Counties [UC] started the MX5 from Nottingham on "ordinary" roads via Leicester to Northampton, thence a quick whizz down the M1 ...
... to a first stop at Hendon Central.
The service had become almost hourly by the 1969 timetable book.
click to enlarge the above picture

MW "coaches" were the original vehicles provided and an MX1 variant was for "duplicate" journeys from Leicester and Nottingham which ignored Northampton and took their refreshment break at the exciting new service area at (usually) Newport Pigswill.
An MX4 variant ran from Alfreton via Derby, jointly operated (nominally) by Midland General, Trent and Yelloway. An MX6 ran to London via Woburn Sands whilst summer MX7 and MX8 ran to Brighton & Eastbourne and Margate & Ramsgate respectively. These "other" motorway services varied over the years; 1969 is just one example.

But it was the swish RELLs that excited Northamptonian bus spotters; they really looked the part ...
... and lived on to carry National Express livery. fbb remembers that they had forced-air ventilation with little blowers above every seat.
The MX5 service polarised opinion in the town. There were those who were 100% in favour of coach travel and, equally, those who were utterly committed to rail. Ne'er the twin would meet!

Pursuant to the Transport Act 1968, the National Bus Company was formed and many local bus companies were nationalised. Many of these bus companies also operated coach services and these were initially branded as National, the National Express brand was first used in 1974 although the actual coach services continued to be operated by the individual companies. Coach services were de-regulated under the Transport Act 1980 and buses by the Transport Act 1985. In March 1988 the National Bus Company was privatised in a management buyout.

The "National" and "National Express" brand has ruled almost supreme since the heady days of Fred Wood's National Bus Company. British Coachways tried to compete but fizzled out very quickly. First had high hopes of Greyhound but, with the exception of First Cymru's effort ...
... between Swansea, Cardiff and Bristol Airport, that too has run off the tracks. Only Sir Brian's Megabus offers something of a national network.
The on-line map gives some idea of the UK scope of Megabus and its assorted cousins, MegabusGold, Megatrain and (sort of) Citylink; but now you have to click three times and you have no idea of links or timetables. England, for example, appears well-covered but without a proper map ...
... you really don't know. Searching for Northampton reveals nothing except no-longer-available buses to Silverstone for the Grand Prix.

So it's only National Express between fbb's former home and the Big Smoke.
Service 455 offers a modest five or six journeys a day ...

click to enlarge the NatEx extract

Note, however, that the 2014 running time is two hours and twenty minutes compared with 1969's straight two hours. Such is progress, but you do get the chance to enjoy Milton Keynes Coachway!

If you consider rail and coach to be competitors, despite the markets being somewhat different, then six trips a day by National Express comes a very poor second to three trains an hour from London Midland.
And the slowest train takes one hour and 12 minutes!

But HUGE changes since 1952!

More from "The Enterprise" timetable book in due course.
More Bad News
announced on Friday 17th October
It is with considerable reluctance, as a result of an unprecedented driver shortage that we are forced to suspend some rarely, or lightly used late afternoon or evening journeys on Mondays to Saturdays for a period of time as we seek to recruit new drivers. We have carefully selected the journeys to cause the minimum of disruption to our passengers.
If these changes cause you any massive problems please contact us and we will see if any adjustments can be made.
The services affected are the 521, 529, 555, 556, 587 and 597.
We have discussed the suspensions with our stakeholders and it was felt it best to identify specific lightly used journeys rather than have random cuts each day to different services. As a result we have maintained the daytime journeys without cuts.
We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause but we are actively recruiting additional drivers.
 Next rail blog : Monday 20th October 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

1952 : Pub Crawl and Public Transport

fbb is deeply, deeply grateful to occasional comment writer Clive from Kent. As part of his own downsizing he has supplied fbb with some really juicy timetables for areas of the chubby one's particular interest. This reduction of clutter c/o Clive has now increased clutter c/o fbb towers much to the chagrin of the domestic authorities! But what superb clutter it is!

How about this for a beauty?
This 1952 edition of the "Enterprise" rail and bus timetable was published by the Victory Press of Oakwood Road Northampton. Oakwood Road runs from Kettering Road to Abington Avenue but fbb has no recollection of the company premises. He was only 7!
The books were typically supported by advertising and it is this aspect the introduces this extended review. 

Of the advertising on the cover, fbb remembers all except T Y Castell. Mr Castell has another guest appearance on-line. He is a judge in the Cart and Van Horse Parade of 1927 ...
... a fore-runner of Northampton Carnival.

The local travel agent, Frames, was the place to get travel advice. It was part of a national group which included coach operation in London.
The coaching arm became Frames Rickards ...
... a company which has been "voluntarily dissolved" earlier this year.

John Frame was a Preston tailor who began organising railway excursions in 1881 when he started a travel agency in the town. In 1884 he opened a London base as part of that business.
The company garage/coach station at 7-11 Herbrand Street, London, an art deco listed building, now forms the prestigious offices of McCann London, a global communications company dealing in public relations, events and promotions, media services and advertising.

Frame's former Northampton office is still extant, but now an opticians emporium.

But the pubs are even more fascinating.
Why call a pub "The Artichoke"?
The Artichoke name is believed to come from crusading origins and the building of this ancient inn dates from 1680, as can be seen on the datestone set on the front of the building. it is also belived to have been purpose built as a farmhouse and village inn, not as a house turned into a public house as many were. records suggest it could have been a coaching inn on the Northampton, Kettering and Stamford roads.

 The Falcon ...
... still trades despite the fact that it was where fbb's sister's wedding reception was held!
Less rural and more suburban was the White Hills Hotel ...
... still there and still trading; but partly obscured on Streetview by a tree and a crisp van!
It is now part of a chain ...

... and today's menu would have shocked 1952's sedate pickled egg eaters! 
But the Clinton Arms, Far Cotton ...
... has disappeared to make way for road improvements. The hostelry stands behind the horse bus in the ancient picture below.
But it was there once, honest. Note the single storey building and its neighbour to the left of the bus.
And, talking of public transport, Knights Coaches, with their distictive rear end fin and bright orange livery (?), ...
... were taken over by Yorks in 1963. K W Services ...
... became Taylor KW in later life, then just faded away or was simply absorbed by another operator. Information via a comment would be helpful?
In case this nostagia-fest is becoming maudlin and tedious, we will end episode 1 with a trio of transport snippets. In 1952 you could catch a coach from Northampton to London ...
... taking just over three hours; today, despite heavier traffic but thanks to the M1, National Express 455 takes just over two. You could also catch a bus to Shrewsbury!
Five hours 20 minutes of non-motorway no-toilet fun with just 12 official minutes "relief" (of various kinds!!!) at Digbeth in Birmingham. fbb's granny is reputed to have used the service to visit her cousin Win near Wrexham. So that's where fbb gets his love of bus travel from!

And the railways line to Stratford upon Avon had just closed.
As a tailpiece (and a curly tail at that) The Pickwick Cafe ...
... still trades at Towcester ...
... as part of the delightfully alliterative Pickled Pig pub; and, amazingly, still at No. 201, 62 years after the "Enterprise" timetable book was published!
What this little booklet shows is that, although much of our Society has changed utterly and dramatically, there is still a great deal around from 60 plus years ago. The two front runners, despite extensive closures nationally, have to be pubs and churches. Back in 1952 churches did not advertise (not many do, even today) but this little booklet shows pub trade was healthy enough to encourage many establishments to spend a bit on promoting themselves.

But can we glean anything from this booklet about the progress (or otherwise) of public transport?

We will take a butchers tomorrow.

Oh, yes. The 5d cover price would work out at about 60p in today's decimalised and inflated money.

 Next 1952 blog : Sunday 19th October