Tuesday 31 March 2015

Virgin on the Ridiculous?

Uncle Richard's Got a Bigger Train Set
Only he hasn't.

The two leading magazines that focus on current railway topics both have headline articles about Virgin Trains East Coast in their April (current) editions.
Modern Railways has the simple headline "Virgin Takes over East Coast" with a sub header "Middlesbrough Direct Service Planned." Rail Magazine is a little more "red-top" in its choice of tag line.
"Virgin Rules ECML at Third Attempt" is true in part, but hides some clever corporate machinations. The company branded Virgin that runs the west coast lines from Euston is 51% Branson (Virgin) and 49% Souter (Stagecoach). East Coast is a modest 10% Branson and 90% Souter. In fact Sir Brian has paid Sir Richard 10% of the shares in the new company for the privilege of using the Virgin brand.

So the Rail headline should read "Stagecoach Rules ECML at the Nth Attempt!"

fbb has been following the emails from the new company using the former nationalised East Coast Trains database where he is one of the millions.

 20th February 2015 

 Not quite. Nothing will chage/has changed from March 1st apart from the start of yet another livery for InterCity trains from Kings Cross. Ray Stenning strikes again!
"From a Railway Carriage" by Robert Louis Stevenson provides the historic and poetic quote. But there is one other stunning change from 1st March.
Our website 
It will be the same to use, but with more red and less purple. If you're registered with the site, your login and password will stay the same. We're changing the address to virgintrainseastcoast.com on 1 March. Don't forget to bookmark!

But there's more:-
Better trains 
A £21m investment will improve the interiors and reliability of our current trains, before the launch of 65 brand new state-of-the-art Super Express trains from 2018.

More services 
There will be more trains on existing routes and the introduction of some new destinations

New Nectar scheme 
Start collecting Nectar points from 1 March and carry on redeeming your existing Rewards Points up until 30 September

Better value fares 
Standard Anytime fares will go down by 10% for long distance journeys to/from London, from May 2015

Apart from the last of the four "improvements" this is non news and non Virgin/Stagecoach. Whichever coporate monster took over the franchise would have offered the first three. No 4 is interesting. The press headlines trumpetted  10% reduction in all Anytime fares from May; the website limits this to tickets to and from London.


 28th February 2015 
A last hurrah from East Coast. "Feel at Home" but we won't be there!

 8th March 2015 
The journey starts twice?
Hi fbb! We're thrilled to join you on the east coast,
and can't wait to make this already great service
even greater.
Boy do we have some exciting things planned.
Here's what's in store... 

 Hmm - again?

Much the same aspirational stuff with red colour and lots of twiddly graphics. A scrolling confuser screen.
A bright ideas flashing light bulb.
A new InterCity Express train - not getting very far on fbb's browser.
A speedo for speedy trains - eventually.
And an overall thumbs up for what will/might happen.
If the new services are as super jolly exciting as the graphics we are in for a real treat. But they won't be.

 19th March 2015 
More swirly graphis but much the same message. But this one looks interesting. "Meet a First Class Treat on Us"
Sadly the new super-duper web site doesn't work on many browsers; but fbb persevered and clicked on the "big red button", actually a small red panel with blue writing and a tiny white arrow.

Get on board and meet Virgin Trains East Coast first hand, in First Class style.
We're giving away 10 pairs of First Class return tickets to celebrate the launch of Virgin Trains East Coast.
To be in with a chance of winning, all you need to do is correctly answer the following question:
Which train company now runs trains on the East Coast route?

and the choices are:-
20 Tickets? Is that the best you can do?

fbb gave up the attempt; the question was too difficult!

Hmmm - yet again?

 26th March 2015 
Should that be "Ker-Ching"?
6 First Class tickets? So have 14 already gone? Or is this a lavish EXTRA six?

Hmm - for the last time?

For now!

Perhaps fbb really is getting old; but this hype seems very OTT (over the top) for something that hasn't changed in the slightest. If Sir Brian and Sir Richard are so delirious about a few sheets of red vinyl, what on earth will they come up with when something new actually happens.

In 2019?

P.S. Non-Virgin East Coast boss has announced timetable improvements as follows:-

From December 2015
Some Edinburgh trains extended to Stirling
Some Newcastle trains extended to Sunderland

From December (?) 2016
Four additional trains between Edinburgh and London.
Will these be trains currently terminating at Newcastle?
Don't you just get hot under the collar when someone gets the better of you in argument. Especially if you know they are right!

So they looked for an opportunity. They bribed some men to pretend they were sincere, and they sent them to trap Jesus with questions, so that they could hand him over to the authority and power of the Roman Governor. "Tell us, is it against our Law for us to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor, or not?”

If Jesus said "yes" he would have been in trouble with the Romans; if he said "no" he would be in troible with the Jewish authorities. Between a rock and a hard place.

But Jesus saw through their trick and said to them, “Show me a silver coin. Whose face and name are these on it?”
“The Emperor's,” they answered.

So Jesus said, “Well, then, pay to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor, and pay to God what belongs to God.”

Great answer; appropriate in the run up to a General Election.  The tension rises yet another notch; but they'll get him in the end.
  Next bus blog : Wednesday 1st April 

Monday 30 March 2015

Bakewell Bus Bonanza

Derbyshire Daftness??
Back in 1952, Sheffield Joint Omnibus Committee ran two bus routes to Bakewell. Service 37 ran direct via Millhouses, Totley, Owler Bar and Baslow (A621). (click on these tables to enlarge)
7 journeys ran on Mondays to Saturday and 5 on Sundays. [SX means not Sundays]. Service 40 ran via Ecclesall and Fox House (A625), Nether Padley for Grindlesford Station, Grindleford and Calver Sough.
Here there were 6 on Monday to Friday, one extra on Saturday and 4 on Sunday. [SX as above].

By 1981 the to services followed the same routes (but with 200 added to their numbers) but the former 37 was much reduced.
Under privatisation, eventual owner First Bus progressively pulled out in a typical old-style First Bus way, leaving both routes to T M Travel, bedfellow of Trent. Expansion followed with buses running every hour on each leg, now numbered 218 (ex 237) and 214/215 (ex 240).
This pattern with minor variations, including an extension to Matlock, remained the norm for several years.

Then in February thus year a big change happened.
The 218 was rebranded as the Peak Line and provided with vehicles in a special livery.
Note the blind display, "Bakewell Direct then Chatsworth". Buses run as in the picture above to Bakewell, then Chatsworth and back to Sheffield every hour. An second service each hour wiggles the other way; Sheffield to Chatsworth, then Bakewell and direct back to the city.
The Chatsworth "wiggle" runs even when Chatsworth House is closed. The service via Fox House has been reduced to a few occasional trips.

On Saturday 29th March, First started their summer weekend Derbyshire network. This unusual development began in 2014 and provides Saturday and Sunday services on what were once traditional Sheffield routes. This includes a "new" (i.e. very old) service 240 with journeys via Chatsworth as 241.
Unusually however, instead of running via the A625 from City to Fox House, the 240/241 operates via Ringinglow, served Monday to Saturday by very occasional route 4 journeys.
The new 240/241 offers one little novelty, however.
As far as fbb can remember the road between the top of Long Line (the long [straight] line on the map) and Dore Moor has never otherwise carried a bus route.
occasional service 4 and 84 turn left here via Long Line
First's service 240/241 goes straight on

But don't try to find  timetables on First's web site. As late as Wednesday last week ...
... the new services were a closely guarded secret. There was no mention even yesterday, the first day of operation.

But T M Travel have trumped the new 240/241. From the same date the previously hourly Sunday service on the 218 ...

From 29th March
Extra Sunday journeys on Service 218 between Sheffield,
Bakewell and Chatsworth for the summer season.
Please see bus times page for full details.

... became half hourly, thus restoring the 1952 tradition of a "daily" service pattern from Sheffield to Bakewell. fbb did click on T M Travel's "bus times page" where, like First Bus above, the new times weren't! And still weren't yesterday; again the start day of the half hour Sunday frequency.
But Travel South Yorkshire comes to our on-line rescue; but not, of course, with any printed material.

Which begs the question. Will the operators tell anyone that these services exist?

Fact : never in the history of buses to Bakewell have services been so lavish. Three buses an hour on Sundays would appear to be ludicrous and unsustainable, yet First's summer only service was reported as being "busy" last year. Might there be competition on price, silly price, to fill seats and lose money? We will, as usual, have o wait and see.
How to Be Popular - NOT!
One of the characteristics of many ages is that religion becomes stilted, over complex and lacking in purpose. Self interest becomes more important that worshipping God.
When they arrived in Jerusalem, Jesus went to the Temple and began to drive out all those who were buying and selling. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the stools of those who sold pigeons, and he would not let anyone carry anything through the Temple courtyards. He then taught the people: “It is written in the Scriptures that God said, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for the people of all nations.’ But you have turned it into a hideout for thieves!”

The chief priests and the teachers of the Law heard of this, so they began looking for some way to kill Jesus. They were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

As well as a challenge to a moribund religion, this provocative act was detrimental o all those who made money from monopolistic trading in "religious" goodies.

One thing was certain, the death of Jesus was no unhappy accident. He provoked it!
 Next rail blog : Tuesday 31st March 

Sunday 29 March 2015

A Bit of a Caper : See All down the Drapery [2]

A bit of a caper, see
All down the Drapery
Bus stops are being extended ...
But Carol is far from happy!
A Northampton shop-owner conducted a survey which has revealed negative responses towards the extension of bus shelters in the town centre, which began today.

Carol Faulkner, who opened Northampton Health Store in the Drapery in the town centre, last November, said the work had caused chaos along the street all morning and the whole project was a waste of money

She said: "I have conducted a survey asking people waiting for buses outside the shop for their thoughts on the extended bus shelters."

"They have all said that it's a bad idea because they are still unlikely to use the shelter and are more likely, instead, to continue standing outside the shops, blocking windows and doors. More than 60 people who commented on Miss Faulkner's survey said they tend not to wait in the designated shelters because they are uncomfortable and sometimes wet.

A purveyor of health food
Said "no gift of wealth would
stop me from being offended!"

"Folk won't use the sheltering
Unless rain is pelt(er)ing.
They stand in front of my shop.
The blockage is trying
'Cos no-one is buying.
This nonsense just has to stop!"

Furthermore, correspondent Alan sent us this picture and adds his comments:-

Is there are worse place to put an extra bus stop and shelter? The entrance to the left is the only access for deliveries and white van man to gain access to and from the busy Market. Buses using the new stop will inevitably block the access (or vice versa).

They're installing a new one
An all-round walk-through one
To block the market access.

And what stand number will it have? The next one down is 15 with 14 being part of the (actual) bus station. Stop 14½? Memories of Platform 0 at Kings Cross and Platform W at Leeds!

Then we'll be lumbered,
They'll all be renumbered.
It'll be a huge shelter mess!

There are also proposals to put two extra stops (with shelters) on Mercers** Row where buses always used to stop; where fbb used to catch his No. 1 to visit granny indeed. (Although not quite as long ago as this!)
There will be uproar again, not least at the loss of a few precious parking paces.

Where once plied the Mercers
There'll be lots more curses.
Two extra on there are proposed.
Oh, Councillor Macca
You are such a slacker.
It's time to have you deposed.

All of this activity is nothing more than shuffling a few chairs around on the bus station Titanic. The majority of comments in the local rag opine that Northgate is a disaster and, what's more, that Greyfriars should have been retained and upgraded. Too late now; but there is a large rubble-strewn plot joined to the shopping centre that is looking for occupancy. 
Nobody else wants it!

Many blogs ago, fbb suggested that Northgate should be turned into "boutique" shops. Now all we need is a proper bus station on the old site.

North Gate is a failure.
Greyfriars we hail yer;
Alas now heaps of rubble.
Despite alteration
There'll be consternation
Centre stops will always be trouble.

The Drapery is supposed to be buses only with very limited access to the Market Square from the north. Is this enforced?
Despite promises from the authorities of "vigorous enforcement", the rules are still regularly broken. Note the unauthorised "blue van" unloading/loading between 10am and 4pm. Also note the plastic barriers to fence off a piece of road in which to park a shelter-extenders van. As a result please note the build up of traffic behind the bus.

The much-stretched Drapery - bus station - Victoria Street "facility" is very, very poor.

**Mercer - a trader who dealt primarily in textiles.
Draper - a retailer or wholesaler of cloth.

Zechariah was a weirdo. He had visions. Visions of grapes, chariots, lampstands, crowns and all sorts of crazy stuff. He lived about 450BC when his country (Judah, capital Jerusalem) was in a huge mess - and old Zech said so. The people had one hope; that Yahweh (their God) might do something about it.

Zech told them that there was no hope unless they obeyed Yahweh's laws; no hope unless they gave up sinning and did right and helpful things. But the people had heard it all before, on and off over the previous n thousand years. However hard they tried, they couldn't get "it" right.

One of his weirdest dreams was about a Messiah. God's chosen big cheese who would sort everything out.

The people though this big guy would be a military or political leader but Zech's vision was of a guy riding on a donkey! Big guys didn't do that. Crazee.

Bur 450 years later, a big guy did.
They went on their way and found everything just as Jesus had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying it?”

“The Master needs it,” they answered, and they took the colt to Jesus. Then they threw their cloaks over the animal and helped Jesus get on. As he rode on, people spread their cloaks on the road.

When he came near Jerusalem, at the place where the road went down the Mount of Olives, the large crowd of his disciples began to thank God and praise him in loud voices for all the great things that they had seen: “God bless the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory to God!”

Spooky - or what?

Today is Palm Sunday.
 Next bus blog : Monday 29th March 

Saturday 28 March 2015

A Bit of a Caper : See All down the Drapery [1]

The Northampton bus station story seems never ending. A quick reminder:-
The new bus station, which was heralded as "perfectly adequate" for all the services that would use it, has progressively "shrunk" with more and more buses using the Drapery and National Express out on a limb at the laughably named "Coachway" (i.e. two shelters, a pay toilet and no information) on Victoria Street.

In the end, we were told, Bays 1 to 14 would be part of the new (suddenly much smaller!) Northgate whilst Bays (i.e. stops) 15 to 22 would be in the "extended" bus station; i.e. The Drapery.
In 1610, John Speede drew a map of Northampton ...
... and the town centre is still recogniseable today. "I" is the Drapery with the Market Square to its right. "P" is Bridge Street now leading to the south of the town. "T" marks the site of the former United Counties bus station on Derngate. "E" is Sheep Street with the now-demolished Greyfriars bus station at "H" and the new North Gate bus station on the site of the curved terrace of house below "E" The town's north gate is just off Speede's map, top left.

The facilities in The Drapery would be, we were told, of an equal standard to those on the new bus station. Of course buses have always used the Drapery but back in the days of fbb's youth we had no need of namby-pamby things like bus shelters ...
A railing, a pole and a "flag" were all that was deemed necessary. If it rained, you pulled up the collar of your mackintosh or overcoat; pulled your trilby or flat cap over your ears and suffered in resigned silence.

And, talking of Mackintosh, ...
... the worthy (?) leader of the Borough Council promised much in the Drapery ...

Along the Drapery new Yorkstone paving slabs will replace the pavements. The existing bus shelters will be removed to make way for new larger shelters with Real-Time Passenger Information devices. The road surface will also be upgraded and improved.

... but delivered ...
... draughty shelters and seating/leaning on nearby buildings. One shelter on the "up" side is situated in between two of the stops, thus ensuring that it provides adequate shelter for neither!
Note the comfy seating.

But, never let it be said that Councillor Macca and his cronies don't respond to public opinion. Having spent an arm and several legs on shiny new, open draughty, rain soaked, cold shelters, the Council is now beginning a programme of "extending" them.
Whatever that means?
But even this "improvement" is not without controversy as we shall see tomorrow. And, as a special treat, our next blog will be enhanced by the pearls of poetic wisdom dropping from the pen of self-styled Public Transport Laureate, Robert Peer-Hewitt.
The hazards of railway modelling outdoors
Next door's cat, Chloe, making use of land above Peterville quarry to stalk her quarry as she continues with her ornithology project.
Happy memories of "The Goodies" "Kitten Kong" episode!
Squashed Bus helps win top Award
The new Askham Bar Park and Ride site building has been awarded an "excellence in civil engineering in construction" by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). The award celebrates the success of civil engineers in the Yorkshire and Humber region, as well as outstanding examples of civil engineering.

In partnership with First, the new Askham Bar P&R opened in June 2014, which alongside the new Poppleton P&R, further increased York?s successful portfolio to six P&R sites making this one of the largest Park&Ride services in the UK.

The scheme was part of the £22.7 million project, 70 per cent funded by the government, which was created in partnership with contractors Balfour Beatty and designers CH2M Hill.

For the best possible PR impact, a single deck bus was carefully squashed out of shape to remind users of the poor shape they would be in if they tried to park in the centre of York.
Or that's how it seems to fbb. The full picture is below.
 Next bus blog : Sunday 29th March