Saturday 31 October 2015

Chill Out on Chiltern [1].

Our Northampton Correspondent At Large.
The line from Oxford to Cambridge via Bletchley (now part of Milton Keynes) and Bedford, was opened in 1850 as part of the Buckinghamshire Railway. Passenger services between Oxford and Cambridge via the Buckinghamshire Railway, Marston Vale Line and Bedford and Cambridge Railway. This led to the Oxford to Cambridge route being informally called the Varsity Line.

In 1967 British Railways withdrew the Oxford to Cambridge, leaving just local trains between Bletchley and Bedford.

In 1987 Network SouthEast restored passenger services on the Oxford to Bicester Town section on the initiative of Oxfordshire County Council. In 1988 Network SouthEast rebuilt and reopened Islip station, again with Oxfordshire County Council support.

There is a little more about this line in a past Bicester blog (here).

After a period of closure during rebuild, when buses replaced the branch line trains ...
... the line re-opened on 26th October. For a while Oxford Citybus used vehicles ordered by (and liveried for) Southern Vectis ...
... as seen here awaiting its happy passengers outside Oxford Station.

But it is a very different line from a bumbling branch carrying small numbers of passengers to change trains at Oxford. A whole chunk of brand new track has been built (The Bicester Chord) linking Chiltern's Eisenbahnhauptlinie** with the "Varsity" Line.
The first passenger (test) train rounds the curve
in September 2015.

Bicester Town station has been rebuilt but demoted to Bicester Village ...
... with an exit straight to the tiny and picturesque (!) "Village" which is the farcical name for a huge shopping centre.

Retail outlets rule OK ...
... with a mutilingual exit sign. Fran├žais? Deutsch? Neither. Chiltern and/or the Village management know where the real money is!
Bicester Village is now a number one attraction for our overseas friends when they visit London. Presumably there aren't enough shops in London? There are just 136 shop units for the visitor to enjoy.
Sadly, fbb has never been, and surprisingly such a visit is not on the chubby one's "bucket list".

The station at Islip is also rebuilt; it had to be because the line has been upgraded from single to double. Here is Islip back then ...
... Islip mini until the recent temporary closure ...
... and the brand new Islip under construction.
This new line is yet another "big idea" from Chiltern Railways.

Presently there is a "fast" service to Oxford run by First Great Western (whoops, now rebranded as "Great Western Railway").
Finding timetables (what's one of those?) on their web site is a voyage of love, building and inspiration; but fbb persevered and here is an extract.
Ah, there it is. Trains run every 30 minutes and take just under the hour; supplemented by Crosscountry trains that have arrived at Reading from the south and will continue via Birmingham to points in the far North.

We will look at Chiltern's plan to offer a competitive assault on the ex Brunellian route tomorrow.

Or Monday if anything exciting happens in Sheffield. There is a rumour that new services are starting tomorrow but the changes are shrouded in secrecy.

** Eisenbahnhauptlinie : German for "railway main line" to remind us all that Chiltern is owned by Arriva which, in turn, is owned by Deutsche Bahn, i.e. nationalised German State Railways.
  Next Chiltern blog : Sunday 1st November 

Friday 30 October 2015

Goodness Gracious Me! (episode 2 indeed)

And a Journey Planner as Well!
But first, bus timetables.
Govt. of India, Ministry of Transport took over the local bus services of Delhi in May 1948 in the name of Delhi Transport Service when they found that the services offered by Gawalior and Northern India Transport Company Ltd., the then licensee, were inadequate. A Delhi Road Transport Authority was constituted under the Road Transport Corporation Act, 1950. This Authority became undertaking of Municipal Corporation of Delhi by an Act of Parliament in April, 1958.

Looking at the operator's web site, you can see why there might be a demand for Google's downloadable app.
Even by fbb's modest standards it is not at all user friendly and in desperate need of a sort-out. This, for example, is part of the home page.

The file of timetables appears to be a huge collection of spreadsheets and that, as they say, is yer lot.

Another (privately run?) site purports to show maps but the one for fbb's "research" route is wholly out of date,
The 522 has been extended and merged with the 521.

But, the Google off-line app shows the full route; all stops are easily and quickly scrollable using the usual tweak of the finger. fbb thinks the correct technical term is "swipe".
The southern 522 terminus has not always been free of trouble.
An “accidental” fire gutted 17 air-conditioned low-floor buses of the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) at one of its depots in South Delhi early on Thursday morning. The incident sent officials scurrying to salvage as many vehicles as they possibly could before fire tenders arrived. 

The Delhi Fire Services (DFS) said 10 tenders were despatched to the Ambedkar Terminal near Khanpur as soon as they received word about the incident around 3.20 a.m., a good 20 minutes after the said vehicles, which were supposedly queued up for refuelling, got engulfed by flames. The fire-fighting operation took nearly two hours.

The 522 service has recently been upgraded with real time information ...
... and offers bus lanes and "high quality" stops in busy locations. The route crosses the spectacular Rajpath (Road of Kings) with splendid views of the India Gate.
From here, the service continues North and East to terminate at at Inderpuri.
Buses run at seemingly illogical intervals; no sign of clock face departures here! From Inderpuri, for example buses leave at 1127, 1202, 1216, 1305, 1319, 1333, 1429, 1600 and so on; another good reason for Google's downloadable app. 
This button leads to a very fast and very simple journey planner. Without some "local knowledge" fbb cannot be sure how effective it is; but did come across a few problems; the biggest of which was persuading his confuser to accept the phone's screen shots. After the first few they started reading "no data in file" despite there being plenty of "data" on the phone. That problem resolved, fbb can look at a couple of potential errors in the JP.

Here is the result of a query from Cyber City (as per Wednesday's blog) to a generalised "New Delhi".
The obvious and easy route is via Rapid and Yellow metros. This is not the most direct but is compatible in time with most bus schedules, assuming the traffic does not impede progress. A rash assumption, fbb understands, in Delhi?

But, despite good frequencies, the metro option never appears again as you scroll to later times.

Then there is this screenshot for the same journey.
Here a bus (410CL) is not only out of order (7.23, 7.48, 7.23) but it shows a.m. not p.m. And prodding see details does, indeed, link to an a.m. trip. Perhaps an argument for changing to the 24 hour clock?

We must, however, remember that this is a "demo" version still under development, so there will be numerous wobblies to iron out.

Now consider this:-

There are about 900 bus services in the database plus the nine metro routes. This would equate easily to the bus and rail data for Greater London. Because the app is downloaded in full onto the users phone it is exceptionally fast and, of course, not dependent on getting a good phone signal.

Seems a jolly good idea.

What about it, Transport for Boris?

One final question. What about updates? It would appear that this experimental version does not receive updates on-line, but surely that will come. A link to google-mapified route diagrams would be easy and already fbb has received two "alerts". Readers may remember the recent earthquake.
fbb's phone pinged and delivered this; including a link to the news reports ...
... followed a few hours later by the "all clear".
Excellent use of technology!

For those who might wish to play, here is the link originally sent by No. 3 Son.

You have to download this onto your android (whatever that is) ...

... but don't ask fbb how to do it. Ask any 7 year old! fbb will enjoy the lollipop.
It is rumoured that Stagecoach are producing leaflets for their exclusive routes (as previously assumed). An anonymous message reads, "We're producing printed timetables for Sheffield buses. The majority of these are SBP branded. The deliveries are due Monday."
Ahem (nervous cough department), aren't the services changing on Sunday? So the Stagecoach stuff will be even later than First's. Perhaps we must congratulate First for attempting to tell their customers before the change?

And this from a Sheffield Resident yesterday.

This morning I managed to obtain 6 of the First leaflets - 3, 20, 56, 85, 95 and X5 - from the Customer Services desk at Sheffield Interchange. They were grudgingly given: "Do you really need all of them?". There was no sign of any of the "Partnership" leaflets. There was  nothing at all at Arundel Gate.

I will make another visit tomorrow, but words fail me. Didn't the Operators know the changes were coming?

Quotes from a recent "Partnership" meeting.
"Golly gosh chaps, we're changing some bus routes soon. Does anyone know when?" (Freddy Firstbus)
"What's more, does anyone know where these new routes go? (Sidney Stagecoach)
"Who cares? It's all on line!" (Linda Laptop)
 Next rail blog : Saturday 31st October 

Thursday 29 October 2015

Sheffield Timetables "On The Street"?

Only Three Days Late?
 The second "Delhi" blog is postponed. 
As 1330 yesterday, fbb received a batch of PDF files of timetables for the massive route changes due in Sheffield this coming Sunday. These were promised for last Sunday but had not appeared on Monday. fbb's correspondent suggests that these leaflets are now "readily available".

Reports from "on the streets" are awaited to confirm how "readily" and "available" they are.

It would appear that First Bus is printing timetables in its own house style (or nearly so) for routes that it will be operating exclusively.

This for the 75 and 76 is a typical example.
The 75 runs from Jordanthorpe with a complicated figure-of-eight turning loop which is inadequately explained by the timetable and really needs a map.
The other "leg", the 76, is a simple turn round at the pub and shopping centre on the Low Edges estate.
These routes and route numbers are unchanged in the new scheme of things and come together at Woodseats and follow their traditional route through the city and via Burngreave Road to Firth Park.

Here the big change happens. Instead of going to High Green (75) or Meadowhell (76) the two routes now run to Shiregreen, previously services 47 and 48.

But there is a snag. The 75 trundles round the estate in a large anti-clockwise loop, whereas the 76 oes 'tutherway, as they say oop north.
Disappointingly this is simply not explained on the leaflet. 
And, of course, there is no map. In the original "partnership" scheme, these were to be numbered 7 and 8 but pressure was brought to retain as many "old" route numbers as possible.

Frankly, a leaflet like this is not satisfactory. You need to have a copy of the new PTE map to hand to understand it and timings round the various loops are just guesswork. 

But, at least, First has made a reasonable effort to tell people what they are doing.

It is too little and far too late.

fbb as also received samples of timetables for joint services. In essence these are mainly routes where First and Stagecoach were in ferocious head-to-head competition, later mitigated by the first phase of the "partnership" scheme.

Service 25 and 25A in the south of the city have become 24 and 25.
But on the east, the 25/25A via Manor has been reduced with the The other half (numbered 24) taking up the routes of the former 22 via Manor Park.
So far so good. Under the old scheme the 25s served a little nibble of newer housing at the Woodhouse terminus named after its "main" road, Spa Lane ...
... and they still do. Except it is called Skelton Lane in the timetable.

Or do they? Here is the brand new partnership timetable as it is (supposedly) "on the streets" today.
A long line of dashes against Skelton Lane. Indeed very few 25s appear to go that way and those that do are at very odd times. Arrivals there on Monday to Friday are at:-

1752, 1807, 1828, 1858, 2009, and 2335 

Not so if you want to go from Skelton Lane to City. Now there are no buses at all.
No, it's not a weird service; all 25s go via Spa Lane/Skelton Lane but the "partnership" only shows a time if the bus is finishing its work for the day there. But at least a few lucky passengers can get there.

There is a nasty taste in the mouth here; the foul flavour of South Yorkshire PTE. Indeed, fbb's contact at the heart of the partnership's pathetic publicity did hint hesitantly that joint services would use timetable data from the PTE.

What a stupid move - BECAUSE IT'S WRONG.

How about the joint 52/52a at Darnall, north-east of the city centre.
The red line shows the joint route and it is immediately obvious that Stagecoach buses go a different way through the Darnall shopping centre.

Isn't it?

Well it is according to the timetable.
Both operators call at Main Road/Greenland Road, here in fact:-
This stop has been the "Darnall" stop for countless generations. 

So what (or where) is Main Road Waverley Road? It is the next stop along the road towards Woodhouse. Here it is:-
And we are asked to assume that First bus 52As simply drive past. They don't stop there.

Of course they do -

And fbb hasn't yet received a version of the 1 and 1A service which was revealed as
in this blog a week ago.

In a true spirit of Partnership (chortle, chortle) we now have examples of:-

Timetables from First Bus for their "own" routes ...
... differently styled timetables for joint services ...
... and, so far, nothing for Stagecoach exclusive routes. fbb has made contact with his contacts and will report as soon as possible.

 Next bus blog : Friday 30th October