Friday 31 August 2012

Short Stay at Stourbridge [4]

Why did you tarry Mr Parry?
In December 2008, the diesel service between Stourbridge Town and Stourbridge Junction Station was withdrawn and replaced with buses, much to the disgust of local commuters. Apparantly the one-coach class 153 until was required to improve services elsewhere.

But the story begins with Mr Parry's "People Mover". This little fellow has appeared in Himley Park (West Midlands), on several Welsh narrow gauge lines and even on-street in Brighton.
A further development was the PPM35, an up-to-date design and a more "trendy" image which appeared on the short Bristol Harbour line, and elsewhere.
Then a year-long experimental Sunday public service, operated by Pre Metro Operations Ltd with  PPM50 on the Stourbridge Town branch, ran for a year and came to an end on 17th December 2006.
The operation achieved 99% punctuality and reliability figures, and gave an 80% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions compared to the heavy rail Monday-Saturday diesel railcar service (which continued as normal). The unit was given number 999000 by the "deep throat" railway computer system.

As a result of the success of this operation, the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority and Centro called for the Stourbridge Town branch to be converted to PPM operation under the new franchise arrangements coming into force in November 2007.

This was all due to "kick off" from the December 2008 timetable change ... BUT ...

Replacement buses ran until March 2009 due to the previous Class 153 being reallocated from December 2008, this being the date the Parry People Mover was originally intended to start working the service. The delay was caused by the interminable approval procedures which ensure that anything that might want to run on our modern privatised and over-litigious railway has to be passed by droves of over-paid committees and groups; including, quite possibly, The Archbishop of Canterbury.

However due to customer feedback, the Class 153 was re-introduced from 15 March until Mid June, when the Parry People Mover finally entered full service.

So fbb gave it a go in 2012!
Designated Class 139 the larger PPM60 unit trundles up and down every 10 minutes Monday to Saturday and four times an hour on Sundays. London Midland seem unable to print a simple timetable, so her's one fbb made earlier using sticky backed plastic and some old egg boxes. [click on the timetable for a more legible image]
The ride is underwhelming and slow (20 mph speed limit on most of the line) but, disturbingly, interrupted by a regular electronic squawk about every minute. The man who was checking tickets told fbb that this was the modern version of the "dead man's handle", whereby, if the driver fails to cancel the squawk, the brakes will come on. Might save rolling spectacularly into the new bus station?
65p old fogey return; cheap as chips. (Actually, as Mrs fbb pointed out gleefully, it isn't that cheap. The line is about half a mile long, so it's thirteen shillings or 65p a mile. So it's rather expensive!)

So what's special about a Parry People Mover. It's the flywheel, man!
The idea is that a little diesel engine chunters away continuously keeping the flywheel, well, flying. When the unit starts it's the flywheel that gives the acceleration and when it rolls downhill the flywheel gets a boost. One possible variant would be to have a little bit of conductor rail at the stops and whizz the flywheel electronically.

This project has been so successful that there is a cunning plan afoot to use Mr Parry's bigger People Mover (bigger train, not just for bigger people!) ...
... to trundle up the old bit of the Oxford Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway northbound from Stourbridge Junction to Brierley Hill. [more on this soon.]
If you, like fbb, are excited by these developments, you might like to watch a rather boring video of the Parry People Mover in action (here).
the very basic railway c/o Parry
Tomorrow, fbb launches an introduction to the "Fat Bus Bloke Bible Blog" which, depending on interest, will be developed over the next few months. It is NOT aimed at the "holy few" but offered as a quirky, lively and non-preachy look at "The World's Best Seller" (and the world's least read!). A link will be provided from tomorrows bus blog.
 Next Bus Blog : Saturday 1st September 

Thursday 30 August 2012

Short Stay at Stourbridge [3]

For buses at Stourbridge see:-
Short Stay at Stourbridge [1] (read again)
Short Stay at Stourbridge [2] (read again)
... but now ...

Tricky Tales for Trains
The Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton railway was a company authorised on 4 August 1845 to construct a railway line from the Oxford and Rugby Railway at Wolvercot Junction to Worcester, Stourbridge, Dudley, and Wolverhampton. The line was opened in stages between 1852 and 1853, and had connections to the Great Western Railway (GWR) at both ends. In 1860 the OWW amalgamated with the Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway and the Worcester and Hereford Railway to become the West Midland Railway, which in turn was amalgamated into the GWR in 1863.

So Stourbridge Station opened with the line in 1852 but on a site a little way north of the present junction platforms. Seven years later a freight branch was built to serve the canal basin, seen here in a modern aerial view.
The line veered westwards about 400 yards north of the 1852 station. This little spur closed in 1880 but it is just possible to see a curve of trees where the tracks once ran.
The bridge that linked the two halves of Stamford Road is now closed to vehicles, but this Google Streetview shot shows it to be much wider than the double track route that crosses above. The extra width carried the 1859 to 1880 spur!
In 1863 the present "main line" from Birmingham via Old Hill joined from the east and in 1879, in response to protests that the station was too far from the town centre, a branch line was built to Stourbridge Town; the former station becoming Stourbridge Junction. This junction faced southwards and, once again, the sharp curve can just about be picked out from a line of trees.
Then in 1901 the present Junction station was built with a north facing line which remains in place today.

The 1879 Town station was a surprisingly grand affair on a double track branch. Beyond the station this "new" line continued to the canal basin (hence the closure of the first spur in 1880) .
From 1935, however, the line was worked as two single tracks, one for passengers and one for freight from the canal basin. This crossed Foster Street East and Birmingham Road on over bridges, then curved round to the basin. The route can, once again, be seen on an aerial view, but where there was once railway track is now Mill Race Lane and an industrial estate.
The bridge over Foster Street East was completely renewed in 1957 in preparation for the closure of the freight "extension" in 1965 (!) and it was demolished two years later. Despite widening and rebuilding, the bridge abutment on the south side of Birmingham Street is still in place 46 years after the canal spur was closed.
The original Town station was demolished in 1979 to make way for the "new" bus station; by which time the line was run as a shuttle with a single diesel car.
The "new" post-demolition station was unstaffed and nothing much more than a shelter and a hut ...
... reflecting the view that the little line could not last for long. But, despite several proposals for complete closure, the influence and support of the West Midlands PTE (later Centro) led to the present staffed building being added in 1994 ...
... which, with the building of the new bus station, brings us up to date.

One of the characteristics of the line was that it was a very steep gradient down to its terminus and this led to several embarrassing runaway accidents in the line's history. Here in 1977 ...
... the train decided to cross the removed Foster Street East Bridge. Whoops!

But there was yet one more change in the fortunes of the Stourbridge Town branch. The shuttle service was withdrawn!

We complete the story in tomorrow's blog.

 Next Blog : Friday 31st August 

Wednesday 29 August 2012

First Fights on Four Fronts [Part 2]

More Battles for First
See "First Fights on Four Fronts [Part 1]" (read again)

 Southampton  versus Bluestar
Pre-emptive Strike :  First launch a major new network in Southampton. In some areas this increases competition with Blue Star; e.g. the X2 to Millbrook.
Response (delayed) : Bluestar introduce a new service 16 on 30th September in competition with First and within the former Southampton City area.
But where to?

Three refurbished single deck Volvo buses, complete with WiFi, easy access for wheelchair and babybuggy users, and comfortable seating, will offer a 20 minute Monday to Saturday daytime and 30 minute evening and Sunday daytime service on the new Route 16 from Sunday 30 September. The new 16 will provide a direct service between Townhill Park, Portswood and the city centre. It will also provide Wakefield Road and Cobden Avenue with a new link to the city centre.

Townhill Park is a large estate of former Council properties ...
... to the north east of the City Centre, currently served by First Bus routes 2 (every 20 mins) and 7 (every 10 mins). Bluestar's new 16 is similar to First's 7 ...

... in some ways, but different in detail as Southampton experts will recognise.
It would appear to offer a simple "out-and-back" rather than the often-difficult mega-loops of First's routes. fbb is indebted to the "Sotonbus" blog for ferreting this out!

Needless to say this has not gone down too well with the incumbent operator.
Rethink : On 11th October First introduce a new service to Hythe in direct competition with Bluestar and well into the traditional Bluestar area.
No details yet available, although fellow blogger "Busing" suggests a 20 minute frequency is planned.

 fbb comment  : Previously "friendly understanding" is abandoned. battle lines are drawn. And when Southern Vectis attacked Southampton Corporation, wasn't "inner Southampton" one of the chosen battlegrounds with Solent Blue Line's copy-cat services competing directly with city routes? And. specifically wasn't there a service 140 which competed with the Corporation's 14 to ...
... Townhill Park?

Solent Blue Line begat Bluestar and so, what goes around comes around!

 Plymouh  versus Plymouth Citybus
Pre-emptive Strike :  Citybus start a new service to Ivybridge, well outside their traditional area and competing with First and Stagecoach.
Ivybridge? Once a small village on the road between Plymouth and Exeter ...
... now a significant "dormitory" town, by-passed by the much improved A38.
Tle Citybus initiative seems a jolly good idea as Ivybridge is currently not well served. There are two longer distance routes: approx two-hourly X38 from Stagecoach ...
... and an hourly X80 from First ...
... plus an occasional 180, also from First.

But  First don't like Citybus 45 one little bit.

Response : First start a new service to Ivybridge in direct competition with Plymouth Citybus 
 fbb comment   : four buses an hour to Ivybridge PLUS the existing longer distance routes? Unsustainable. And back in the "good old days" didn't Western National (pre "First") run every half hour to Ivybridge; then First backed out? Here's an extract from the 88 timetable from c1996 ...
... and the improved version from c1999.
What goes around, comes around.

And one final thought. Who will be paying for all this excess capacity during the aggressive competitive phase? Not just the residents of the Dearne Valley, Ipswich, Southampton and Plymouth, unfortunately. In the end we all dig into our not-very-full pockets with higher fares nationally as the various companies seek to balance their books and provide their shareholders with attractive dividends.

Is competition in public transport really a good idea?
fbb will keep an eye on these developments and report in more detail where appropriate.

 Next Blog : Thursday 30th August 

Tuesday 28 August 2012

First Fights on Four Fronts [Part 1]

A least!
Who would be a manager, eh?

 South Yorkshire  versus Stagecoach
Pre-emptive Strike : First starts a competitive service between Rotherham, Wath and Barnsley every 10 minutes.
Response (delayed by nearly a year) : Stagecoach starts Magicbus between Rotherhan and Wath every 20 minutes but limited stop.

Rethink : Stagecoach service ceases to be limited stop.
Re-Rethink : Revised from 1st September : every 10 minutes but still only as far as Wath
 fbb comment  : Despite the supposedly pally Sheffield Partnership from the end of October, there are signs that all is not as cosy as it might appear politically. There have also been some aggressive fare reductions by both parties on competitive routes in Sheffield, routes due to be chummy under the new partnership proposals.

 Ipswich  versus Ipswich Buses
Pre-emptive Strike : First introduces an improved network which increases competition with Ipswich Buses.

A few vehicles (one?) appear in the new livery. [Thinks : that "i" with big serifs looks absolutely awful!]
Response (quickly) : Ipswich Buses increase frequencies on all corridors where First has improved its services.
They also add some extra journeys on what is really a "works" service to BT Martlesham Heath aka Adastral Park.
These trips, numbered helpfully 192F, divert via the older of the two estates at Broke Hall. The route only runs off-peak and hourly.

Rethink (due in September) : Ipswich buses offer a significantly improved frequency via Felixstowe Road on former First route 62 (a route withdrawn as part of the service "imprpvements") ...
... with half hourly service 4 ...
... but competing with First's 55 and 56 on the estates (from 24th September). The 192F will then be withdrawn.

A further, as yet unannounced, new service is also due to be introduced.

 fbb comment   : A real David and Goliath battle developing here. Ipswich Buses are creeping out of their original operating area. Interestingly, however, Ipswich Buses say they are "re-introducing" service 4. Perhaps someone "out there" will let us know what went before! But there will be tears before bedtime here; or an unofficial and illegal mutual agreement to cease the silliness. Maybe First will buy Ipwich buses? Or maybe Ipswich buses will buy First's Suffolk operations?
We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in the City, we shall fight at the shops and on the estates, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength on the road, we shall defend our company, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight at Gainsbrorough, we shall fight on Foxhall Road, we shall fight in Bixley and in Broke Hall, we shall fight on Felixstowe Road; we shall ... never ... surrender!

Well said, Winston Malcolm!
Malcolm Robson MD Ipswich Buses

Part two and two further battles from our war correspondent tomorrow.
 Next Blog : Wednesday 29th August