Saturday 28 February 2015

Replace a Pacer? (1 of a series)

A Universally Reviled Train
These trains were introduced in the eighties as a cheap way of "modernising" services on quieter branchlines. Based, initially, on the Leyland National bus ...
... the units are still in full service in the North and in South Wales.

Campaigner for Better called Steve
Wants discomfort on trains to relieve
"I really must say, sir,
I just loathe the Pacer,
They're awful, too bad to conceive!"
Stephen Joseph, Executive Director
Campaign for Better Transport

Joseph said, "There's a consensus that a key part of improving the economy in the North of England must be better public transport, within and between the cities. The Pacer train embodies our transport woes."

So, it is good news from him:-

George Osborne, a great politician (?)
When faced with some public attrition
Said, "What I will say, sir,
We'll replace the Pacer.
Those trains are in awful condition!"
George Osborne
Chancellor of the Exchequer

Chancellor George Osborne told the Commons: “I can confirm today that we will tender for new franchises for Northern Rail and the TransPennine Express; replacing the ancient and unpopular Pacer carriages with new and modern trains.”

And the PM joined in:-

We heard from our noble Prime Minister
"Our plans are great and not sinister.
I'm happy to say, sir,
We'll replace the Pacer.
It'll all be so great when we've finshed, sir!"
a much loved Prime Minister

As reported on 7 November last year David Cameron said: "We all want to see Pacers go, and bidders for the Northern franchise will be required to propose plans for the removal of Pacers when they submit their bids in 2015. Those trains are going, there will be a progressive upgrade of trains right across the system."

But things were not so clear from the Transport Minister:-

Then up pops McLoughlin, our Paddy,
A respected political laddie.
"I feel I must say, sir,
We'll be keeping the Pacer!"
So is it "the good cop" and baddie?
Transport Minister Patrick McLoughlin

But since then the disappearance of the Pacers hasn't seemed quite so certain. So when the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin arrived on a visit to Teesside this week, I was keen to ask him about their future. Would he guarantee that we were about to see the back of those pesky Pacers? The answer wasn't entirely clear. He said: "There may be odd routes where they will still have a role but overall the Pacers have had their day, and they need to be replaced."

Nick Clegg had a word to say:-

Then depute Prime Minster, Nick
Spoke out; a political trick?
"I can firmly say, sir,
Fond farewell to the Pacer!"
By year '25? That's hardly slick!
deputy Prime Minister Clegg

Mr Clegg said: “I want significant improvement, government money to buy better rolling stock to improve commuter routes in the north, by 2025. Ancient rolling stock and lines that have not been upgraded in 30 years are not fit for a 21st century metropolis. Decrepit trains such as the Pacers, which are literally ancient buses on rails, are not a fair way for people in the North to get to and from work.”

So another ten years of rocking and rolling?

But the Company that owns lots of Pacers and leases them to the train operators has an alternative view.

With a name from a small Sheffield stream,
Porterbrook have revealed their dream.
What we will say, sir,
Well upgrade the Pacer.
These trains, we'll make them the cream!
Porter Brook, Sheffield

Paul Francis, managing director, told Transport Select Committee MPs on October 27: “We are doing a Pacer vehicle in Derby, with RVEL [Rail Vehicle Engineering Ltd]. We are going to put £800,000 into a Pacer vehicle. Notwithstanding everybody’s dissatisfaction, we want to show stakeholders, whether they are people from Northern, people from DFT or politicians, whoever wants to come and see it, what you can genuinely do with that Pacer vehicle to modify it.
an alternative solution?

Confusing, isn't it?

More on the dreaded Pacers later thus week.
Western Greyhound "New" Web Site
This site, offering nothing "new" compared with the old, finally burst forth on an unsuspecting world last week. In the "FAQ" section we read:-

Who is Western Greyhound?
Western Greyhound is a locally-based, family-run business that has been operating since 1998. We run an extensive bus network throughout Cornwall and into Devon, offering services which frequently connect together to provide excellent journey opportunities in the region. Our fleet can be identified by a smart green and white livery and our routes are numbered in the 500 series. Our buses are reliable because we take immense pride in ensuring a high quality of service, resulting in us recently receiving the prestigious national award for Operating Excellence for Small Fleets for two years running. The company continues to grow from strength to strength, having just taken over the Corlink service and also beating off stiff competition to earn the new Truro Park and Ride tender.

Try posting up to date information not out of date misinformation!

"Route Maps" are useless:-
And WG's former excellent PDF timetables are replaced with a link to Traveline.
Not very good. And there's at least one of these!
Why bother to change? The tulip is still wilting!
 Next "varied" blog : Sunday 1st March 

Friday 27 February 2015

Silliness at Stranraer [2]

From Train to Boat : but which Boat?
The history of this ferry route would be incomplete without reference to the appalling tragedy that befell the Princess Victoria in the great storms of 1953. 133 lives were lost in the worst disaster since World War 2.
Of particular note is the selfless dedication of the radio officer who stayed at his Morse key (no speech radio then) calling for help despite the fact that the vessel was almost lying on its side. He was one of the 133.
David Broadfoot GC (21 July 1899 to 31 January 1953) was a Scottish seaman awarded the George Cross for his role during the sinking of the MV Princess Victoria. Broadfoot remained at his post while the ship was sinking, sending messages to shore stations to enable them to locate the ship. He was posthumously awarded the George Cross, the highest award for bravery to British civilians.
The root cause of the disaster was revealed as poor design of the car deck doors (aft loading) which were forced open by mountainous seas.

British Railways ferries became Sealink (1978) ...
... was rebranded and sold to Sea Containers Ltd (1984) ...
... which was again sold as Sealink Stena (1991) ...
... which became Stena Sealink then just Stena line.
But in 1973 competition arrived on the route. Townsend Thoresen, the company that had thrown the floating cat among the seagoing pigeons in the English Channel, moved an operation from a Preston Larne route to a new terminal at Cairnyan.
The first ferry began its life as a military vessel from WW2.
Later, the new owners of Townsend Thoresen, namely P & O, set about rebranding from the distinctive orange ...
... into their more conventional dark blue.
Cairnryan had been developed as an emergency port during the war, to be used if major harbours at Liverpool, Heysham or Glasgow were knocked out by enemy bombing. In its declining years the quay was used for breaking up redundant warships, the most memorable being the Ark Royal.
Cairnyan was provided with a rail link ...
... which, had it survived, would have provided a useful passenger connection.
But all had gone well before the new terminal was built.
The new site had the advantage of being a few miles nearer to Ireland and more easily accessible by the all conquering motor car and, more significantly, motor lorry.

But, for the time being, you could still change from train to Stena ferry back at the historic Stranraer terminal.
But all was due to change in 2011. Note the conventional ferry to the left and the huge high speed craft to the right. This was the "HSS" (High Speed Ship?) Stena Voyager which made the crossing in just over one and a half hours.
"Silliness at Stranraer" continues on Monday 2nd March.

 Next rail blog : Saturday 28th February 

Thursday 26 February 2015

Silliness at Stranraer [1]

A Midland Region rail timetable for the early pre-Beeching sixties shows the rail service via the so-called Port Road from Carlisle to Stranraer.
It shows a Saturdays only "boat train" from Newcastle, three all stations stopping trains, a few timings (from Dunragit) on the Glasgow and South Western Line, trains to Kirkcudbright** and (not included in the above extract) the sleeping car train from London Euston.
This "crack" (?) express (?) ran six nights a week ...
... taking a smidgen less than ten hours to get to Stranraer for the 0700 ferry and a short crossing to Larne. The return sleeper ...
... was twenty minutes slower. The picture below is of a "black 5" hauling the up working over the Big Water of Fleet viaduct.
In remote countryside to the north of Gatehouse, the route spanned Big Water of Fleet by means of a 300-yard viaduct. In 1935, it reputedly starred in Alfred Hitchcock's film version of John Buchan's thriller 'The 39 Steps'. It also made an appearance in 'Five Red Herrings', a 1975 TV outing for Lord Peter Wimsey. It is hoped that it will eventually play host to an official footpath.

One of the other oddities of the line was the halt at Loch Skerrow between New Galloway and Gatehouse. It was literally in the middle of nowhere ...
... but trains would stop on request in the Summer only, presumably for the convenience (?) of walkers.
The stop existed originally as a source of water for locomotives on this steeply graded line; the tank (right) being replenished from the nearby loch.

The "Port Road" closed in 1965. The overnight sleeping car "boat train" continued to run via Kilmarnock until 1991.

A link from Carlisle remained in the timetable as a through daytime service from Newcastle, but it also ran via Kilmarnock. This service was withdrawn from the December 2009 timetable. 

Today's much longer journey from London involves changing in Glasgow and sometimes additionally in Ayr and takes between seven and eight hours.
Notice, by the way, that the stopping trains from Carlisle ran to Stranraer Town; only the specific boat trains ran to the Harbour. The line continued southbound to Portpatrick; proposals to re-open the Town station and close down the line to the harbour have been debated for some time. Unfortunately the old station site is not much closer to the town centre than the present harbour terminus.

But, until relatively recently, you could still get off your train and walk swiftly up the gangplank and on to your ferry to Larne.
But, alas, no longer. How, then might an intrepid rail passenger make the short sea crossing in 2015.

We will continue to explore this transport challenge tomorrow.

** pronounced (for our overseas readers) Curr-coo-brie. The name actually derived from "The Church of St Cuthbert" i.e. Kirk Cuthbert!

Kirkcudbright has had a long association with the Glasgow art movement, which started when a colony of artists, including the Glasgow Boys and the famed Scottish Colourists, such as Samuel Peploe and Francis Cadell, based themselves in the area over a 30-year period from 1880 to 1910.

Many of them moved to the town from Glasgow, including E A Hornel, George Henry, and Jessie M. King, and their presence led to Kirkcudbright becoming known as "the artists' town", although town residents see the town as a "fishing town": as the town has a harbour, this soubriquet may have originated more from tourist-board publicity rather than local usage.

Landscape and figure painter William Hanna Clarke lived in Kirkcudbright and many of his works featured Kirkcudbright.

The Tollbooth, Kirkcudbright (detail)

 Next rail/ferry blog : Friday 27th February 

Wednesday 25 February 2015

A Special Day

And a Personal Blog
This graph shows the ages of the great stars of pre-history as recorded in the Bible. Methuselah is the top dog as he is said to have died aged 969. Traditionally these great ages have been regarded as mistranslations, misunderstandings or just plain lies! What is fascinating, however, is that the numbers decrease in a steady pattern.
This steady reduction follows repeated announcements by God that he will reduce the span of man because of his repeated intransigence in failing to obey the Divine code. The number is ultimately reduced to "three-score years and ten", i.e. 70.

So, from 1300 today, fbb is past his sell-by date!!

Public transport has weaved its confusing way throughout the old bloke's life and, aware of some "senior" repetition, fbb would like to nostalge decade by decade; with the caveat that boundaries between bouts of activity are very roughly drawn!.

 1945 to 1954 
At Junior School (from September '49) the big memory is of a maiden aunt who took the little chap on bus trips round Northampton on Saturday evenings.
An oft-remembered highlight was a trip to the then-new Kings Heath estate where fbb junior was treated to a Sherbert Dip!
Kings Heath was fascinating, too; all modern and green.

  1955 to 1964  
At Northampton Grammar School. 
Interests moved to railways and model railways. Joining the Crusader Bible Class brought the spotty teenager into a deep relationship with God and membership of a small team running a Model Railway Club.

And so to University and off to Sheffield.

This was fbb's first encounter with a big municipality and a first encounter with strange buses with engines at the back.
Here fbb (still not f) met the bod who was to become his bother-in-law. He worked for Sheffield Transport Department and was able to guide his new-found chum to all the best bits of the city's excellent transport network. Thus fbb was able to gain some insight into the process of running buses. He was able to make unofficial suggestions and several of these were adopted.

 1965 to 1974 
Then came work and the PTE. Work was teaching; and leisure was still exploring the further reaches of South Yorkshire. There was the little matter of marriage!
There was also a developing friendship with a certain Giles Fearnley who was honing his burgeoning interest and knowledge of public transport. The boy dun good! Along came family in the persons of three sons, none of whom seemed willing to embrace their father's interest with anything other than derision or pity. Pity! But Saturday trips into Sheffield Centre and snacks at the bus station were still an acceptable "treat" at least for a while.

 1975 to 1984 
Things were happening bus-wise; bendybuses, trolleybus experiments and above all a low fares policy by the Peoples' Republic of South Yorkshire and a significant stemming of the decline of urban bus passengers.
Work at Hinde House School was a really rewarding time and the RE teacher who knew all the Sheffield bus routes by heart was, for a while, remembered on Friends Re-United! Fame indeed. 
The politics of education was less happy however and fbb moved on to manage a Christian holiday centre on the Isle of Wight.

 1985 to 1994 
Organising travel, booking coaches, arranging Island-wide "quiz" activities using Day Rover Tickets brought fbb (still not very f) into contact with Southern Vectis, soon to become one of the first management buy-outs from the National Bus Company. Their chief engineer, Alan Peeling (later promoted in retirement to fbb's senior Isle of Wight blog correspondent) and Managing Director Stuart Linn began to open up some of the challenges of senior management.

But the chaos of privatisation  was short-lived on the Island and the pressures of work at the Centre meant that the loony excesses of the early days of competition were only "enjoyed" remotely ...
... with one or two trips back to Sheffield.

fbb bought a coach and began to provide in-house transport for the Centre and a summer open top bus service was developed with the agreement of Southern Vectis.
Westbrook Travel was an experience but not a success financially. The reins of the Centre were, sensibly, handed over to a younger man but then came an unexpected approach from Stuart Linn. Would fbb be interested in editing a bus timetable for the whole of the UK?

 1995 to 2004 
Westbrook Travel was eventually sold on and died an ignominious death under its new owners. But, lo and behold, the Great Britain Bus Timetable ...
... and, later, the xephos journey planner system brought fbb gainful and stimulating employment ...
... and an entry into the competence and incompetence of bus publicity.

Both of these avenues were to be noble failures. The book was killed off by the big bus groups who withdrew their minimalist funding (boo!) and xephos failed to win over the politicians who went for something far more complicated and much, much more expensive than xephos would have been. (typical!) We are now lumbered with the costly monster that is Traveline!

 2005 to 2014 
So it was back to the classroom as a supply teacher and one of the most enjoyable times for the now somewhat "f" bb. Blogging started in March 2010 ...
... so a fifth birthday is not far away.

2013 saw a more-or-less complete retirement and the downsized move to Seaton. But the interest and desire to understand the bus world is not yet dimmed by age and fbb is privileged to maintain some long standing contacts and friendships within the industry. fbb remains very grateful indeed for the dozens of colleagues who, at various times in his spectacularly unimpressive career(s), have offered support and encouragement

One thought which buzzes through the chubby one's mind at regular and frequent intervals is this: "Is the bus industry better now than it was in, say, the sixties?" On balance, fbb would say "yes" with one notable exception. A continuing frustration is meat and drink for this blog but a sadness for your author. Public Transport information has undoubtedly deteriorated since the good old days of, say, Sheffield Transport Department.

How long will fbb carry on blogging? God only knows! God has been gracious and good and is due all the praise for a rich, varied and fulfilling life - so far. He has held fbb's hand during the low times and provided joy and forgiveness in abundance. He has given the old man a wonderful wife and a loving family.

Perhaps He will be gracious enough to grant the fat bus bloke a few extra years to continue to enjoy it all and, hopefully, share his enthusiasms with others.

fbb's favourite short prayer is this, from the last chapter of the book of Hebrews:-

God has raised from death our Lord Jesus, who is the Great Shepherd of the sheep as the result of his shed blood, by which the eternal covenant is sealed. May the God of peace provide us with every good thing we need in order to do his will, and may he, through Jesus Christ, do in us what pleases him. And to Christ be the glory for ever and ever!


And the "fat bus bloke" label? Blame No. 2 Son who set up an Ebay account without telling his old man. Imagine your blogger's surprise when he received an email addressed to "fat bus bloke". Sniggers all round from No 2! Nevertheless, the title did seen rather appropriate as a "nom de plume"!

Back to abnormality tomorrow! 

 Next rail/ferry blog : Thursday 26th February