Monday, 28 February 2011

Will X5 (new) Xcite You?

A Wilts & Dorset [W&D] Revision

Remember, click on an image to see a larger version.

Once upon a time, e.g. Great Britain Bus Timetable in 1996, W&D ran buses between Salisbury and Swindon.   Between Marlborough and Swindon some buses ran via Chiseldon, others via Avebury.   Buses showed either 5 or 6 depending on route.
More recently the service became an hourly service 6 to Larkhill; and an hourly service 5 on to Pewsey.   From here "connecting buses" continued to Swindon via Marlborough and Chiseldon (service 95) or via Marlborough and Avebury (service 96).

From yesterday (27th February) the whole lot was recast.
All journeys, irrespective of destination or route are numbered X5; although the X "tag" means nothing - certainly not "express", possibly "Long DiXtance" - it's just a brand name.   The timetable is broadly unchanged (hourly Salisbury to Larkhill; hourly Salisbury to Swindon) BUT there are now no journeys via Avebury.
The hourly buses all go via Chiseldon, dramatically improving the number of journeys via the big new Great Western District Hospital in Swindon.

For obscure licensing reasons (petty bureaucracy rules OK) the service is still shown as "connecting" at Pewsey, although we are assured that the buses run through and the "connection" is guaranteed!  Typically daft interpretation of pointless regulations.
What about the missing bit?   Passengers from Avebury to Swindon can use the hourly Stagecoach 49 but the "few" (according to W&D) who journeyed from Marlborough to Avebury will have to use a selection of "odd" services provided under the Wiltshire "Connect2" scheme.   The 96 is not replaced.
The W&D X5 leaflet is  an excellent example of how it SHOULD be done.  It shows the full timetable, a complete route map (extract only shown, too long at 15 inches for a blog!) ...
... and detailed plans for the bigger villages and urban areas.
Unusually, but creditably, it also gives sample fares.
An excellent production, giving plenty of the sort of information that the potential user might want; including encouragement to simply go for a ride and enjoy the view - other operators take note and emulate! 

Sadly the news is not all good.  It is, of course, totally astounding that Traveline and Transport Defunct have made a blunder.   Such a rare occurrence.   Whilst the X5 was "ready to boogy" from 27th, the withdrawn 96 was still firmly in place and available for use up to the posting of this blog on Monday 28th.   [Still there, March 1st : eventually corrected 1 week later!]
No comment - at least no printable comment!   Just remember the £50 million we pay to fund Transport Direct and the countless (and largely hidden) millions expended by bus companies and local authorities as they "struggle" to remember to remove cancelled services.
Perhaps someone at Traveline needs to understand where and when buses run, rather than how to "manage the data"?   More porcine aviation, we fear.

Next blog : due Wednesday March 2nd 

Friday, 25 February 2011

Buses in the Blood

Bells ring, crowds cheer, readers yawn!
fbb's 100th Blog 

On 1st February [2011] Giles Fearnley was appointed Director of Buses in UK, Germany and Ireland for First Group.
Much has been written elsewhere about his management skills and career development.   But fbb has a somewhat different "take" on the subject.   So let's make it more personal.   fbb writes:-

It all began with a cup of tea.
I first came across Giles Fearnley at the age of 12 when he was a pupil, and I a teacher, at Birkdale Preparatory School, Sheffield.   The school was run by Aggie Allkins - not the head teacher, but the maker of tea, washer of games kit, mopper-up of sick and all-round carer and repairer of almost anything.   It was to my great amazement that the young Fearnley accepted a cup of tea from the redoubtable Aggie WITHOUT SUGAR - unheard-of for the "youf" of the day.

"You should try it, sir," he said, with impeccable politeness, "the tea tastes better like that."   I did and it did - and I have never taken sugar since!  A (young) man of influence and perspicacity!
The teenage Fearnley showed a keen interest in Public Transport, accompanying a slightly slimmer fbb on frequent exploratory trips around the Sheffield area.   Here he is seen (above, yes it is he!) exploring the delights of a new road management scheme at Woodhouse on the eastern fringes of the city.
which one became Mrs fbb?

As a member of our Crusader Bible Class, he accompanied me to a Young Peoples' holiday on the Isle of Wight at which I was leader and he was an assistant.  There he became an innocent (but, fortunately, very effective!) match-maker between fbb and the future Mrs fbb. That was over 37 years ago!  A man of influence and perspicacity.

After  National Bus Company training he was offered the job of General Manager of Maidstone Corporation Buses ...
... which would have made him the youngest Corporation GM ever; beating his grandfather by several months. Giles decided, however, that NBC offered better long term career prospects; and the rest, as they say, is history.

His uncle was Ronald Arthur Fearnley, much respected GM (in order) of  Keighley, Southend and Coventry Corporation transport departments.  It is a significant historic irony that Uncle Ron managed the Keighley undertaking which was later to come under Giles' ownership as part of Blazefield Holdings.
 a more modern vehicle in Keighley Corporation livery

His grandfather was Arthur Robinson Fearnley [ARF], the equally celebrated long-term  GM of Sheffield Transport - in the boss's chair from 1906 to 1934.
ARF's reign included the glory days of Sheffield Trams...
...and some toughly negotiated expansion which took Sheffield Corporation buses as far east as Gainsborough, as far west as Manchester, as far north as Leeds and moderately south to Chesterfield.  [This expansion included the formation of the Sheffield Joint Omnibus Committee to incorporate joint bus operation with the Railway Companies.]

ARF began his career at the age of 16 (!) as, effectively, General Manager of the Queensbury and Shelf Steam Tramway Company.
He then moved to Birkenhead Corporation, where he was the youngest (ever?) muncipal transport GM.  Giles most certainly had buses in the blood.
Even Giles' late father, Reg, was a transport man - being fleet sales manager in Sheffield for the massive Kennings business.
There is no doubt that Giles Fearnley had transport in his genes and was destined for senior management roles in the bus industry. Whether his experience and skills will enable the 56 year old tea-without-sugar drinker to turn Worst Group back into a noticeably first First Group remains to be seen.  But then he always liked a challenge.  A not-quite-so-young man of influence and perspicacity.

For what its worth (and it ain't worth much) your good friend of over 40 years standing wishes you well, Giles.   And if you need a hand with timetables, maps and "stuff", just give me a ring - my fees are modest.  (but then, with First's millions, perhaps ...)

One final, and very happy memory.  Giles' mother, Helen (still alive and kicking), regularly invited me to their Sheffield home for lunch and she made absolutely stonkingly delicious meat pies.
Maybe that's why fat bus bloke isn't simply "bus bloke" - but it was always worth it!   That's what friends are for.

Next blog : due Monday 28th February.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

How to save Money!

fbb's suggestion to H M Government
Throw away your computer systems. 

In connection with various bits of not-very-gainful employment, fbb receives copies of bus service registrations from Hampshire County Council.
For the uninitiated, the "registration" is the legal document submitted to the Traffic Commissioners and containing details of your bus service proposals or alterations.
 In the "good old days" the Commissioners held public enquiries where anyone could put forward an objection to the proposals.   This was, in effect, a device to prevent wasteful competition as the incumbent operator could object on the grounds that the incoming service was "unnecessary".   What a good idea!  But since deregulation in 1986 the Traffic Commissioners are little more than an expensive filing cabinet.

Now, of course, as in all things trendy and modern, you may submit your registration on-line.

 "This is the report on implementing the paperless office."

fbb has been looking at a recent registration he received in connection with his minimalist employment.  Whereas the paper document consisted of approx four pages, the on-line version often works out at a minimum of three times that - and you begin with a contents list.
This list doesn't seem to bear much relationship to what the contents actually are, as we shall see in due course.   Then follows basic details of what it is you are registering:-
Most of this glurp is repeated two or three times in other boxes on other pages - but in a slightly  different form.   Also note that the period of operation of this particular "event" is from 3rd April to 3rd April.   Keep that snippet in mind!
fbb has no idea what this is for or what it means.    And there follows, in this case, THREE pages listing every stop served.
Note the lengthy stop reference number on the left - 12 digits.   12 digits is space enough for one less than 1000 billion stops - 999,999,999,999 to be precise.   Ready for expansion or information overkill?   What's wrong with an eight figure ordnance survey grid reference - they're needed anyway for journey planner technology?    But that's what happens when you put things in the hands of computer geeks - anything to add complexity.
Another mystery.   What is so important between Andover and Marlborough that it needs listing EIGHT times?
And it's good to know that the document was created, modified AND new; all on the same day.  I am sure that such information is really, really helpful.   Sadly we are not told what the compiler of the submission had for breakfast, but it's only a matter of time: Nor do we know his mother's maiden name - another worrying omission from the form.

And there's more...

For a new service, the registration also needs to record any turning manoeuvres, type of vehicle (bus? skateboard? jump jet?) and include a detailed map and a full timetable.   fbb has received copies of registrations 25 pages in length.

Incidentally, the registration here reviewed is to CANCEL a service!  Showing a real concern for economy of time and money, it only took SEVEN pages of "stuff" to register this cancellation.  [and, if the document is correct, which it probably isn't, to cancel it for one day, namely 3rd April.]

Now, although this is all for electronic registration, there are still numerous occasions when a paper copy is useful or even necessary.  Even if paper could be avoided, some faceless minion has to input all this stuff - and presumably check it and input it again when the infuriating confuser (sic!) belches loudly and refuses to accept it.
So, Department of Transport / H M Government / Mr Cleggeron:- throw away your computers, buy a nice tin filing cabinet for the registrations and go back to one (for cancellation) and four (for new or revised services) sheets of this amazing and technologically advanced stuff called "paper".   You could also probably delete this duty from the onerous responsibilities of the Commissioners.  Hurrah! there goes another piece of QUANGO.

Whoops, sorry Mr Computer; we forgot the essential bit:-
What a relief!
fbb, and the whole world, can sleep soundly in their beds tonight.   Zzzzzzzz.

  Due next, fbb's 100th  blog : Friday 25th February.
Memories of an Industry "Icon"

Friday, 18 February 2011

Underground Overground

Wombling free...(see below)
Where could you ride on a genuine London Tube Train?

London, stupid!   As here at Hyde Park Corner.
Where else?   Just as easy.  On the Isle of Wight, of course!   Between Ryde Pier Head and Shanklin.
Photographed in 1969, this is one of the original old  (in service in London from 1928) tube trains, made up into sets of seven cars with ex Southern Railway unit codes of 3VEC and 4TIS.  [or it might have been 4VEC and 3TIS?]   Vectis was the Roman name for the Island, probably a latin corruption of an prehistoric ruler called Weachta.   That's how you get from Vectis to Wight, Isle of.

In the very early days of electrification, trains ran every 12 minutes on Summer Saturdays to cope with the crowds.  Sadly the traditional Saturday "change-over" is almost gone; replaced by coach holidays, short breaks and the onslaught of the dreaded motor car. 
The new old tube trains (really up-to-date, starting their London life in 1939) originally ran in sets of 2 x 2, sporting Network SouthEast livery - very smart too.   Nowadays we have moved from this, through dinosaur trains ...
... to a reproduction of older London Underground colours, deep red with cream widow surrounds.
But now it is rare to see trains of more than two cars!  And there are only two trains an hour.   How the mighty have fallen; from 7 cars every 12 minutes to two cars twice an hour.  And because of "infrastructure limitations" - the two track section from Brading to Sandown was "rationalised" i.e. singled - they run at 20 and 40 minutes past the hour; absolutely ideal for connecting with ferries that sail every 30 minutes.  Grump grump!

OK, that was easy.   Now where else can you ride on a London underground train?   This is one of the cars showing Golders Green as its destination.   That, however, is a veritable puce pilchard!  
[O.K. a red herring.] 

Still not sure - the answer is a little diesel hauled tourist line on Alderney, one of the Channel Islands.   "Not a lot of people know that," thanks Michael Caine. 
The coaches are hauled by a diesel loco and run approx 2 miles from Braye Road to Mannez Quarry, mostly along the coast.
Click on the map to view in larger size.
Two train trips run each afternoon, during the Summer, on Saturdays and Sundays.  On busy days this increases to three trips.  Not quite as busy as these coaches were when they lived underground in London!

For those who may have lost touch with their childhood - unlike fbb who is in his second ... "Undergound, overground, wombling free..." are the opening words of the signature song to TV's version of Elisabeth Beresford's Womble stories.

Incidentally, Madame Cholet, the Wombles' cook, had an assistant called ...
 Madame Cholet WITHOUT her assistant
... Alderney! 

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Maglev Memories

A good idea, but...

The "main man" was Professor Eric Laithwaite.   fbb watched his Royal Institution Christmas Lectures on TV in 1966 and 1974.   His interests were wide-ranging but included Gyroscopes and Linear Motors.   He was regarded as a bit of a maverick and his work on gyroscopes was rejected by the scientific glitterati.   He died in November 1997.
His contribution to public transport was to refine and develop the idea of linear motors combined with magnetic levitation.   This is a bit technical, but the levitation bit is easy - the train, carriage or whatever, "floats" on a magnetic field.
To imagine a linear motor, try to think of a conventional electric motor opened up and flattened out.   So, instead of spinning round, the motor drags the "thing" along lengthways; the track becomes the equivalent of the normal motor's armature.   No wheels, no friction, thus high speed!  Here endeth the physics lesson.

This is Eric's first demonstration model  ...
Initially the magnets were part of the track, dragging the carriage along, but this was later refined by placing the magnets on the car which then dragged itself along a metal beam that formed part of the track.

Meanwhile Monsieur Jean Bertin (France, 1917 to 1975) ...
... was developing a high speed train, supported, not by magnetism, but by hovercraft technology.
However, prototype S44 (built in 1969) was powered by a linear motor rather than the aircraft engines of the earlier "attempts".   A full-size test track was built and all looked good for its future in France, ooh la la!   This is the only reasonable picture of S44 after it was terminally damaged by fire in 1992.
Later experimental prototypes reverted to aircraft engines and ran successful passenger carrying trials, also in France. Sadly le Gouvernement Francais decided to invest in "normal" trains - le TGV - and poor Monsieur Bertin was "mis en faillite", i.e. went bust!

Back in good old Blighty, however, the very first public maglev service in the world was opened at Birmingham International Airport in 1984.    It linked railway station with airport terminal and consisted of two cars shuttling backwards and forwards automatically.   Herewith fbb's pic taken soon after opening.   The line was a massive 1/3 mile long - wow! - and the trains travelled at about 15 mph - double wow!
The system was closed in 2005 because of increasing unreliability.   One car is in the Railway Museum at York and the other was sold on ebay in December 2010 for £25,100.   Meanwhile, as is so often the case, technical development moved to China where a swish high speed maglev links Shanghai with its Pudong International Airport.
The line is 30km long, the journey takes 7 minutes and 20 seconds and the trains travel at 431 kph (that's those funny foreign kilometres per hour, 250 mph in real money).  Eric Laithwaite would have been impressed.

Pennies seem to be the problem.   The track is, by definition, expensive and speeds big enough for most of us can be achieved on conventional track.   And the system is no more "green" than a standard electrically powered train.

The Birmingham maglev track lay disused for some time - replaced by a boring bus service.   But now that track has been refurbished and the new trains are dragged along by a piece of string.  [OK a steel cable, but that's only thick strong string - and very old-style technology!]

Just came across this very tiny pic of the S44 Bertin Aerotrain (the only version with a Laithwaite linear motor!) in near pristine condition - enlarged as much as we dare.