Wednesday 30 March 2016

Why fbb Doesn't Like Journey Planners

or Manchester Madness Part 1
The question is, could fbb get to the launch of the Vantage guided bus way service, scheduled for 1300 at Leigh bus station? (click on the map to enlarge it)
Options would appear to be train to Manchester and bus; train to Warrington and bus; or train to Wigan and bus. Other options, like train from Wigan or Manchester to Atherton would add an extra complication.

Where to start? The first trains out of Axminster (10+ minutes from fbb towers by car) were: to London ...
... at 0552; and likewise to Exeter ...
... which clearly dictated the only start option.

Hesitantly, fbb asked Traveline (National), usually pretty awful and always to be treated with "polite suspicion"
One option offered was, indeed, via Exeter to Manchester ...
... but arriving too late. Another option was via Warrington ...
... with a highly risky five minute connection for the train to Newton-le-Willows, but an arrival in good time. But by far the best option was via Wigan.
That gives an arrival in Leigh 42 minutes before the get-go and the possibility of a later bus if the London train was delayed. And yipee; a bus every 12 minutes!
Looks promising, doesn't it. But then there is snag number two. fbb, being a tad on the parsimonious side, would be highly averse to paying anything other than the saver fare. So will the 0552 from Axminster plus the 0930 from London Euston be within that validity?

Better check with the National Rail site.
Back comes the answer:-
No 0552!
An hour later from Euston and a total failure to meet and greet and be guided omnibologiocally from Leigh and back. But, uselessly, the site did confirm that a Saver ticket was available at £83.65. The "FastJP" site, also confirmed the lack of an 0552 path, by the way.
Just for a giggle, fbb tried Axminster to Leigh on Google Transit, better known as Giggle Transit for its often silly answers. But it did admit to several 0552 possibilities including the Traveline version. The Google giggle answer, however ...
... would have sent fbb via Eaxter and into Paddington, a tighter path through London and the distinct possibility of a higher (astronomical) fare of over £180. And the National Rail journey planner wouldn't offer the same journey as Giggle anyway.

Could Virgin help, operator of trains from Euston to Wigan?
fbb has no idea what the above slogan means. And this one is even dafter.
Virgin's prices (with the exception of occasional Virgin-only specific special offers) are ALWAYS the same as every other train company's prices. Anyway, no sign of an 0552 path from Axminster either.
But initially the fare confirms that Virgin do offer, after all, the cheapest fares at £41.80. Until you read the note below.

The results above show single ticket prices, based on the fastest available journey, to offer more flexibility to our customers. If you are making a return journey, there may be a cheaper fare available, particularly if you are travelling with a train operator other than Virgin Trains. Please click here to check if these are available for your journey.

You do wonder how many folk have booked their two singles without checking. It is true that two Saver singles are cheaper than one Saver return!
By 5p!

But these "bargain" Virgin fares are exactly the same as everybody else's. Of course, we still do not know whether a Saver is valid on the oft-hidden 0552 path; oft hidden on journey planners but the only option for fbb. And fbb cannot buy a ticket in advance with reservations included because the journey fbb wants does not officially exist.

After some discussion with the only UK resident who understands the murky intricacies of UK rail fares, fbb decided that the Traveline option at 0552 from Axminster and via Wigan would work and that the Saver fare was valid.

The 0930 from Euston runs to Glasgow and is likely to be packed. Will fbb find a seat?

The problem, as usual, is that some journey planners make assumptions about interchange times. Crossing London is particularly fraught with such assumptions and fbb can only assume that the National Rail deep throat confuser considers 44 minutes to be too risky, despite prophesying a ten minute Underground ride.

That's why fbb doesn't like journey planners.

Of course, if Easter weekend engineering work were to overrun ...

Some lines between London Waterloo and Clapham Junction, also the lines between Clapham Junction and Barnes will be closed all weekend (Friday to Monday) for bridge works. Part of London Waterloo station will also be closed and many trains will leave London Waterloo from different platforms to normal - please check displays at station.

Due to the number of alterations to the train and bus services this weekend, it is not practical to display special timetables for all of the routes and stations affected.

Please use an on-line Journey Planner or the Print your own Timetable or Buy Tickets features from this website to check your journey details.

But, faced with a slightly speculative schedule, the worrying horror if 1 hour 55 minutes standing, an early start, a late finish, engineering overrun possibilities and the joys of creaky old age, did the old crusty actually go?

The truth is out there and will be revealed tomorrow.

P.S. This happened on Bank Holiday Monday.
It wasn't looking good when fbb callen in at Axminster Station; 1430 Monday.

 Next busway blog : Thursday 31st March 


  1. Those connections seem fine provided you walk about like a normal person.

    The morbidly obese will struggle and need to adjust accordingly.

  2. I find National Rail allows far too much time to connect across London, and many times on the return journey have been able to get an earlier (non restricted) train.

    Surprised the 05:52 wasn't showing - it is for tomorrow (so hardly hidden), and it did run as far as Exeter (albeit late) on Tuesday. As that runs via Birmingham, perhaps some early morning engineering work?

    Virgin says their prices can't be beaten. It doesn't say they'll be cheaper, just that nobody else will be cheaper than them. It's aimed at the "trainline" market, which claim to be cheap then sting you for delivery and the like.

    1. The 0552 to Exeter was cancelled on Tuesday as the train to form it didn't arrive Axminster until 0633 from where it ran light to Exeter. The 0552 to Waterloo arrived a little late at 0852.
      I don't understand your Birmingham comment as neither 0552 doesn't run via Brum but there are engineering works en route at Wolverhampton but these shouldn't have impacted this trip so it is baffling why it was hidden. Also even though the 0930 from Euston was late it still just made the connection to Newton LW or the Wigan option.

    2. My mistake. I clicked on Monday by mistake on RTT. Vandalism, apparently.

      According to NRE (for tomorrow), the onward connection at Exeter from the 0552 is Cross Country service with the next change at Birmingham @ 0952.

  3. FBB if you hate journey planners so much why did you make one?

    There seems to be a correlation between you losing the tender for the national journey planner and your irrational hatred of the current one.

  4. To Anonymous @ 10:56 - if you had taken the trouble to comprehend FBB's prose, you would have noticed that he has explained the reason behind his dislike of journey planners, and it is not at all irrational. It is, in fact, extremely rational! "The problem, as usual, is that some journey planners make assumptions about interchange times."

    To Anonymous @ 10:11 (and also to FBB), the National Rail journey planner has a potentially helpful trick hidden away under the "Advanced Search" link: a tick-box to allow less time to transfer through London.

    Incidentally, the duration of prophesised Underground rides is normally quite accurate as they are all timetabled. It is the interchange times between trains that are usually overestimated, an issue that can be somewhat alleviated by ticking the above tick-box.

    1. I tend to forget about that hidden button, and sometimes it doesn't reduce them by that much.

      Yes, fbb's reasoning for disliking journey planners is valid, but he seemingly fails to realise they *have* to make assumptions. If they gave very limited interchange times, there would no doubt be scores of complaints from the elderly, luggage carriers or the 'portly' that they had missed connections. Journey planners also have to take into account someone walking from coach 1 or coach 8, tourists, stairs, lifts, gates, people who walk up to the gate and then realise they don't have their ticket in their hand, people who stay seated until the penultimate person has got off the train before ambling slowly, the list is endless. I can transfer at STP or VIC much faster than at Waterloo or Paddington because I know exactly where I'm going. The journey planner doesn't know I know.

      I would, though, be interested to hear how and why fbb thinks he can do better, given his history. Isn't traveline data Open Source?

  5. To anonymous at 1030. I never made a journey planner. Far too tricky. I did however manager the data for one. BUT the xephos JP was both superior to what lies behind both National Rail and Traveline as it was designed specifically for the UK's convoluted and disintegrated non-system.

    I did not lose the contract : there never was a contract.

    But the failure of "them" to adopt xephos has cost you and me as taxpayers something like £50 million a year in unnecessary costs.

    Government and its Local Authority lackies have a wonderful knack of wasting our money on ludicrously overpriced technology projects.

  6. To answer the fares question, the claim from virgin is as a result of them offering "Saver Half" fares, only valid as part of a return journey. Therefore they can get away with showing single fares as two saver half fares, or an advance one way plus a saver half the other (or two advances) is generally (but not always!) cheaper than a saver return. These fares are only available through the virgin website, hence the claim you won't find cheaper fares! Since national rail adult fares are offered in fares ending in tens of pence, then the half fare is rounded down to the nearest 10p.

  7. "The "FastJP" site, also confirmed the lack of an 0552 path, by the way" - that's because it's not a valid connection through London.

    Try it now and there is a 0552 itinerary available avoiding London.

    FastJP will give an invalid itinerary across London if you specify a negative connection time at a relevant London Terminal, but unless you specifically request an invalid connection, it will only suggest valid ones.