Sunday, 29 March 2020

Variegated Blog (part 2)

Working Together (1)
In a surprise but sensible announcement, HMG has recognised the potential problems of maintaining links to the Isle of Wight during the present crisis. Wightlink has just announced the complete closure of its route between Lymington and Yarmouth to allow limited human rescources to be redeployed on the Portsmouth Fishbourne car ferry and Portsmouth Ryde passenger routes.
What has HMG done? A most sensible thing.
Competition law is suspended. Wightling, Red Funnel; and Hovertravel can now collude, work together, arrange joint timetables - in fact work sensibly TOGETHER to help passengers complete their journeys and, more particulatly, to aid the transfer of freight from Mainland to Island

Working Together (2)
HMG has also taken cotrol of all rail franchises (we know that!) AND extended similar support to the non-franchised "open access" operators (e.g. Grand Central, Hull Trains). This mini bail our went down well with the Stock Market last week. Rail company shares rallied somewhat.

Stagecoach shares leaped by a significant 6% because ...
... as pundits and investors reported, the franchised rail operators like Stagecoach will live to fight another day.


Stagecoach no longer holds any rail franchises! It does operate Sheffield Supertram, but the rail bail out does not include that operation.

Well done, stock market clever people.

Working Together (3) ... Or ...
fbb was taken to task, had his knuckles rapped, for being critical of some of the information being promulgated in Sheffield. "Poor timetable people," he was informed, "are really struggling with repeated schedule re-writes and a cataclysmic drop-off in passenger numbers."

fbb's slighty askew comments about two Sheffield routes were not intended to be critical of any one person in particular but they were born out of a profound frustration at the apalling LACK of working together.

For once, South Yorkshire PTE, a k a Travel South Yorkshire, has managed to get a full set of timetables on-line a couple of days before the next timetable earthquake.

So well done PTE.

But look at this.
The 120 is one of four joint services in Sheffield and happens to be fbb's home to anywhere bus route of many years ago (when it was route 60). Under "normal" circumstance buses are run alternately on the core of the route; one from Stagecoach dutifully followed by one from First, equally dutifully followed by one from Stagecoach and so on.

The frequency was generally even; every 5 Monday to Friday, every 6 Saturday and every 10 on Sundays.

But from Monday, First will run an hourly service ...
... and Stagecoach will run their usual Sunday frequency of ...
... every 20 minutes!

What is even dafter is that Stagecoach is running like every day was a Sunday, so it runs full route from Halfway to Fulwood (as "normal" on a Sunday). Meanwhile, First is running hourly like it was Monday to Saturday, i.e. only from Crystal Peaks. Stagecoach "normally" runs from Halfway to Ranmoor on weekdays.

The there is service 53 from Mansfield to Sheffield, a Stagecoach route. This is the helpful advice provided on the Stagecoach (IN Sheffield) web site.

For information on Stagecoach East Midlands service 53 visit their  service updates page

Ito wouldn't do, would it, for Stagecoach Yorkshire (which includes Chesterfield) to tread on the sensitive toes of Stagecoach East Midlands and tell Sheffield people about buses to and from Sheffield.

It is similar in Rotherham and Doncaster!
These are not some odd backwater set of routes; they are significant links with Rotherham (19) and Doncaster (21, 22 and 25).

It is all a gurt big mess.


Working Together (4)
By absolute coincidence, Mrs fbb found a small pack of old photos carefully filed (NOT) in the attic room at fbb mansions. Of considerable interest was this one ...
... with fbb and his sister front and mum, dad and granny (dad's mum) in the rear. fbb cannot remember the picture, but is fairly certain that it was taken ouside St Matthews' Church Northampton ...
... built in astounding grandeur by the Phipps family on the proceeds of the brewery company! The area round the church was known colloquially as Phippsville and nearby lived fbb's father's cousin Janet, whose wedding was the cause for the stand-to-attention picture. It was sometime in 1955/6 soon after the little lad had started at Northampton Grammar School.

Another rambling digression?

But in the same bag of assorted snaps were pictures of Sheffield Transport buses, badly taken by fbb in his student days.

Knowledgeable readers will, enjoy spotting body and chassis types, but for the purposes of this post, fbb draws his readers' attention to the livery and vehicle variety in Sheffield in the mid sixties. It was, possibly, this variety which drew fbb into his love affair with the Steel City.

There were short ordinary buses but lacking the three blue stripe livery for which Sheffield was famous. It is on a very ordinary City route.
There were buses with similar livery (Roe Bodies used this style) but with a grey roof.
It is on route 32 on its way via Manor Estate to Handsworth, a route which no longer exists as a whole although bits are still served.

Higher capacity for busy routes and folding doors (folded by the conductor) - again bodied by Roe but with standard livery.
This is on its way on the half hourly route to Bradway at the very edge of the city. Now served every ten minutes by routes 24 and 25, joint between Stagecoach and First.

Then Sheffield had lowbridge buses with grey roof and "eyebrows" ...
... acquired to cope with a low bridge at South Anston. 

Modernity came with later batches of buses for tram replacement; the ubiquitous Leyland Atlantean.
This is on an outer suburban route to Beighton, now partly in the hands of Stagecoach Superptam and partly served by First Bus route 8.

There was a dalliance with front entrance front engined buses, not  specifically chosen for the design, but bought because supplies of high capacity Atlanteans were slow in delivery.
This is off to the recently developed Gleadless Valley estates. This was a partnership (snigger) joint route for Stagecoach and First as 1 and 1a running every 12 minutes each. But First pulled out and instead of two twelve minute services over much common ground, First have opened out their frequency to every 15 and there is no co-ordination.

Partnership, what partnership?

But back in those halcyon days, ALL the buses in city and suburbs were run by the council for the benefit of the ratepayers. Buses arrived in new estates before most of the occupiers and there was huge pride in delivering the best possible service.

Most of the buses from Sheffield to nearby towns were either run exclusively by Sheffield Transport or in partnership with British Rail through a Joint Committee (the latter being very much dominated by Corporation staff and policy!).

As time progressed, there were financial constraints and cutbacks instigated by the inexorable growth of private motoring but ...

Sheffielders were proud of their buses.

And today - before the Virus?

 Next cartographic blog : Monday 30th March 
Short Thought
The little known prophet Habakkuk has challenged God to tell him why he doesn't to appear to be doing what the people wanted him to do, namely get them out of "another fine mess they had gotten into".

God has reminded them of the mess and had told Habbie that he has it all in hand. 

The prophet is uneasy about God's plan which appears to involve punishment by a Babylonian invasion (which DID happen!) rather than some "magic God dust" to "make everything right".

There was at least one answer; the prophet was told to write this down:-

And this is the message: ‘Those who are evil will not survive, but those who are righteous will live because they are faithful to God.’

Shouts of "I cannot believe in such a vindictive God"? Maybe, maybe not!

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Variegated Blog (part 1)

Management By Computer 1
In these troubled times, bus managers are having to work their computer systems very hard. In the case of Stagecoach Yorkshire and or Chesterfield, the mantra for next week's emergency timetable is Sunday service on Monday to Saturday with extra early morning trips for those seeking to get to their place of work.

Undertandably, with the decline of passenger numbers, running empty buses is a pointless exercise.

Thus it is that Stagecoach will no longer be running the normal Monday to Saturday route 80 that rambles between Chesterfield and Eckington then on via Killamarsh to Sheffield.
It runs non stop EVERY HOUR between Crystal Peaks shopping centre and Sheffield Interchange.

The traditional route between Killamarsh and the city is no longer served except for a few evening and early morning oddments.

From Monday, and to reduce operating costs in the face of a collapse of customer numbers, Stagecoach will, indeed, be running a Sunday service with additional early trips. And because it is Sunday, surely it will be less frequent.
Erm, no. It runs hourly, just as it does on Monday to Saturday. And it takes almost the same time, 36 minutes as opposed to 37 between Killamarsh and Sheffield! 

Maybe there is a good reason.

Management by Computer 2
Here is the emergency timetable for route X5 from Sheffield to Dinnington,
The service "normally" runs every 20 minutes Monday to Saturday and  thus has a worse-than-Sunday frequency. Maybe First made its decisions AFTER Tuesdays lockdown announcement whilst Stagecoach did not anticipate that particular development.

Here is the return table.
Notice the problem? Indeed; buses run TO Monksbridge Road but don't come back. It SHOULD read ...
Modesty precludes fbb from revealing who explained this error to First Bus.

It was, of course, a "computer error".

There will be more from the Omni Shambles Of Sheffield tomorrow.

Bug Boxes Or Small Birminghams?
The Small Birminghams, commonly known as Bug Boxes, are the small four-wheeled carriages built by Brown, Marshall & Co of Birmingham, which are the earliest passenger carrying vehicles on the Festiniog Railway, dating from 1864-7.

In old Company times, they were known as "Small Birminghams" to distinguish them from the bogie carriages built by the same company. The term "Bug Box" is thought to have been given to them c.1955 by LNER driver Bill Hoole as it was a term used for ancient four and six wheelers on the North Eastern Railway. The main square internal frames are thought to be original as well as the door handles. They share - with the original Talyllyn carriages of 1865-66 - the distinction of being the oldest railway carriages still in regular use in the world.

If you are a modeller of narrow gauge railways (and the breed is growing) you can now own a set of these, beautifully made by Peco.
There are not kits but fully assembled models, part of an increasing range of narrow gauge stock produced by the Beer-based company.
They do come at a challenging price of £30 each (actually £29.95) although some retailers do a little bit of judicious discounting.

It is fascinating to see what would have been considered as specialist models in the past now available to the "ordinary" enthusiast unable (or unwilling) to craft their own.

Arriva Arrival
Leicester chum David travels (travelled?) often on Arriva bus routes from Groby into town He was not surprised to see a bus like this approaching his stop in the village.
This was not particularly revolutionary until David spotted something odd. It had two sets of doors; a centre exit no less. These were very popular in the past, a useful facility to speed boarding but helping off-getters avoid impingement with on-getters.

Sheffield had lots.
London still has lots, specifiying them even on midi buses!
Dual doors are making something of a comeback, for the same reason that they were popular in the past - and they are ideal for tapping out have previously tapped in. They have total command of Bristol's Metro routes and are spreading further round the city.
But not in Leicester - until now.

It transpires that David's bus (with centre doors eschewed by passengers and driver) was originally in use at East Midlands Airport.
Does anyone know why they have left their airline duties?

Cat News; Cat Mews?
The fbb's new cat, now officially named Mr Tubbles, is currently struggling with the cat flap. He can get his front legs, head and first chunk of torso through with ease but struggles with the back end. Apart from this, he is settling well and there is usually a doorman on hand to help with ingress and egress.

"Is he settling in?" asks a correspondent? Judge for yourself!
It is a tough life, being a domestic cat!

 Next Variegated blog : Sunday 29th March 
Short Thought

Critics of the Bible often joke about the prophets being mongers of doom. And here God is promising action, unpalatable action, in response to "bad things" going on in the nation of Judah.

Here are a few "bad things" laid out for Habbakuk.

Wealth is deceitful; greedy people are restless.
Before you know it you will be in debt and paying high interest.
You schemes have brought shame on your family.
Your city is founded on crime.
You have humiliated the weak.
You have cut down the forests of Lebanon.
What is the use of worshiping an idol?

Sounds familiar doesn't it?

Friday, 27 March 2020

It's All On-Line - And All In Print (3)

The Grant Palmer timetable for services which may (or may not?) start this coming weekend is a really good example pf how to publicise a set of bus services. 
We have been higlighting the 74 which changes by extenstion to Hitchin replacing part opf a Centrebus service. So, naturally, there is the full timetable ...
... and an excellent map from FWT.
The quality is superb, sop much better than those Google map oveprints that many operatpors use to save them the bother of doping the job properly. Google maps are fully scaleable and geographically accurate, but their electronic creation denied the bus operator of the ability to highlight things that matter. On the above extract, we see Tesco, as important shopping destination ...
... and the Priory Business Park from where Grant P may hope to glean a few commuters.
Not marked as such, but difficult to miss, are the famous Cardington sheds ...
... where the R101 Airship was built and garaged.
R101 crashed in France in the early morning of 5th October 1930 on its way to Karachi in India. 46 people were killed in the fire. Development of airships was halted.

It is hard to grasp the size of this vessel, but here are passengers boarding at the top of its mooring tower ...
... and here is the multi storey tower!
Modern airships, built with more consideration for safety, have been developed, but, as yet, the idea of a gentle flight rather than a fast jet has nor proved commercially attractive.

But, yet again, we digress. The second half of the map takes us south to Hitchin.
Henlow Camp, by the way, is a smallish village which takes its name from RAF Henlow, home to four huge hangars, not as tall as Cardington, but still huge.
They were built during World War 1.

But, yet again, we digress. The 74 timetable also includes a guide map of stops in Bedford ...
... and just one in Hitchin.
It's not just the new and extended 74 that gets the treatment; each route included in the booklet has a similarly excellent map.

And to complete this review of the Company's publicity, there is also a route 74 only leaflet.
This also contains example of season ticket priced and return fares.
Overall this set of leaflets is one of the best combinations of timetable, graphic and general information fbb has experienced in recent years.

If there were "a golden ticket machine" award for bus publicity, Grant Palmer should be one name on the golden envelope ...

Worrying News For Seaton
It appears that the redoubtable Frances May Searle, proprietrix of Axe Valley mini Travel, fbb's local bus operator, is in trouble with the Beak.
Frances is no spring chicken and, if the company goes under or madam simply gives up, it is hard to see any other operator taking it on. And all this was in motion well before the Corona Virus crisis developed.

It is unlikely that the hearing will take place next month BUT it will hang, like the sword of Damocles, over the company until it does take place.

Damocles thought it would be really nice to be king. The King, annoyed by Dammo's perasistent bleating, offered to swap places and allow the covetous courtier a whole day seated on the regal throne. but he hung a sword above Dammo's head, suspended by a single horse hair. It was meant to symbolise to high level of responsibility that came with kinging. Dammo stopped complaining!

 Next variegated blog : Saturday 28th March 
Short Thought

In Answer to Habakkuk's second complaint about the "coming" of the "brutal Baylonians", God was equally enigmatic.  Godinstructed the prophet:-

Write down clearly on tablets what I reveal to you, so that it can be read at a glance. Put it in writing, because it is not yet time for it to come true.

But the time is coming quickly, and what I show you will come true.

It may seem slow in coming, but wait for it; it will certainly take place, and it will not be delayed.

Coming quickly? Seems slow in coming? Wait! It will certainly happen! It will not be delayed.

But what? And why? And when?

Thursday, 26 March 2020

It's All On-Line - And All In Print (2)

Grant Palmer produces printed timetable booklets of exceptionally high quality for a small family-run company. Or maybe the high quality stems from the fact the the company is small and family run; so cheery Grant ...
... knows the needs of his passengers and knows full well that a large percentage of them would not, or could not, grapple with the hassle of seeking information on-line.

fbb has received just one of his booklets, that which deals with some changes from 30th March. 
The red blob (upper right) says "includes new 74 service to Hitchin.

Well now, when fbb was nobbut a lad (actually married with a couple of sproglets) his woprk, marriage and family somewhat denuded him of the enthuisasm and opportunity to explore the highways and byways of the UK's bus and rail network. There wasn't much spare cash either!

But, for a while, United Counties (UC) produced a loose leaf timetable book ...

... and offered a leaflet update service by post. So fbb  can confidently (?) aver that, in 1979, UC ran a service 180 from Bedford to Biggleswade ...
... running via Ickwell of Thomas Tompion fame. (see yesterday's blog). There were also other routes between the two towns.

176 : Bedford - Mogerhanger - Biggleswade
177 : Bedford - Mogerhanger - Biggleswade
179 : Bedford - Old Warden - Biggleswade

In 1979 these were all grouped on one of UC's loose leaves.
UC soon closed the scheme (on cost grounds) but at least you could maintain a complete set in good order.

With many changes over the years, this has become Grant Palmer's route 74 ...
... now running via Old Warden and thus incorporating the 1979 route 179.
Now we must take a look at a Centrebus service. Currently the 188 and 189 ...
 run from Sandy ...
... via two different routes to Biggleswade and then on to Hitchin. From this coming Monday (30th March) Centrebus are removing themselves from the Biggleswade to Hitchin leg and ...


... Grant is extending his 74 to replace it. Hence the booklet with the red blob!
Needless to say it is all very well explained in the newsletter.

But Cwentrebus do leave us with a little problem.
Is is MoGerhanger (United Counties) or MoGGerhanger (Centrebus)?
It looks as if Centrebus get the prize, certainly according to Google Maps ...
... AND The Ordnance Survey.
The road signs concur.
A chocolate peanut for Centrebus!

But maybe not a raspberry for UC? According to Wikipedia ...

Moggerhanger is a village in the English county of Bedfordshire. It is west of Sandy on the road to Bedford. Its population in 2001 was 636,[2] but had reduced to 620 at the 2011 Census. In the twentieth century the village name was spelled variously as: Moggerhanger, Mogerhanger, Muggerhanger and Morehanger. Local pronunciation of the name is as Morhanger.

The OFFICIAL civil parish name is Mogerhanger.

It seems that the name was changed at some stage in the village's history
But we digress. Indeed we digress so much that a full review of the forthcoming 74 (if, indeed it forth comes!) will grace your screens tomorrow.

 Next Grant Palmer blog : Friday 27th March 
Short Thought
The Assyrians, who had obliterated the northerners, suddenly disappeared from the annals of history. They were quickly replaced by the Babylonians and Habakkuk did not like the idea of the big brutal Babylonians "coming" to Judah, as "promised" in a vision from God.

How can you, our God, treat people like fish or like a swarm of insects that have no ruler to direct them? The Babylonians catch people with hooks, as though they were fish. They drag them off in nets and shout for joy over their catch! They even worship their nets and offer sacrifices to them, because their nets provide them with the best of everything. Are they going to use their swords forever and keep on destroying nations without mercy?

The Babylonians' lifestyle was, suggested Habbie, worse then even the declining morality of Judah. It looked as if things were going to get worse rather than better.

What was God up to?

P.S. The Babylonians were not all bad. They kept meticulous astronomical records, could predict eclipses and the phases of the moon and were jolly good at sums. Sadly, despite trying, they failed to predict earthquakes and plagues.

But they were utterly dominant politically and militarily.