Wednesday 30 November 2016

Bus Break at Blackpool (3)

It was in the autumn of 2013 when Classic Bus North West (CBNW), purveyors of July and private hire buses for weddings and other junkets ...
... began the risky business of running real bus and coach services for the general public. An express service between Blackpool and Manchester began, numbered X70 and labelled "Red Rocket". The name you may have heard before.

Under the leadership of Phil Stockley, local buses in the Eastleigh area operated by Solent Blue Line were similarly branded. 
fbb even bought a model thereof (second-hand, of course) as a reminder of the Southern Vectis branch office that operated them.

The CBNW version was actually a coach service, and thus could appear and disappear at will without the strictures of the registration legislation. And it still does.

On the first day (4th October) at least one double deck was used ...
... but the more famous performer as time passed was an ex London articulated Mercedes.
Other vehicles were used including this one ...
... formerly with Stagecoach Manchester.
Initially the service ran every 90 minutes, but it was significantly reduced as seen in this later timetable.
The main service now ran between Preston and Manchester with limited peak journeys from Blackpool. A new company was established although it is not clear what the relationship between company and coach service might have been.
The note in red may be construed as being somewhat worrying!

The Red Rocket web site continues to appear to be active however and is offering a book on-line facility ...
... under the aegis of yet another company, Catch22Bus Limited - of which more in due course. Current offers are focused on Christmas Shopping in Cottonopolis.
The timetable is even more sparse (click on the image below to enlarge it) ...
... and, following previous years' precedent, may not reappear until Easter 2017.

We must, perforce, return to October 2013. Withing a week or so of starting public service operations things went well and truly belly-up. This announcement appeared on various on-line media.
Oh, deary me!

The notice also brings up CBNW's service 80 and refers to yet another company, namely Oakwood Travel Services Limited which appeared to be operating a service 22.

Well, no one said it would be easy. The "unravelment" continues tomorrow.

Two notes of importance. (1) Local bus watchers in the North West will be far more familiar with the set up than fbb is, operating remotely; so apologies if fbb has got some of the detail wrong! (2) This investigation was prompted by news from Roy, a respected Sheffield correspondent, who has also sent loadsa pictures. Ta muchly!

Talking of Unravelment ...
Details are beginning to dribble through the ether of the hitherto secret plans that the Sheffield Bus Partnership has for the festive season.

Except the initial news is from operators who are not party to the Partnership!

T M Travel outlines its plans with only one service (30) operating on Boxing Day but not on New Year's Day.
Their page of info also shows services on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve as finishing early.
The second batch comes from Stagecoach Supertram. Here the pattern is similar on the two Eves, but a full timetable is given for 26th and 2nd.
This information is currently being prepared for the GoTimetable Sheffield App and web site and, once it is in place, fbb will explain a bit more.

It is (slightly? more interesting than it might, at first, appear.

 Next Blackpool blog : Thursday 1st December 

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Bus Break at Blackpool (2)

Where to Start?
Once upon a time there was Blackpool Corporation Transport, Lytham St Annes ditto (later Fylde) ...
.. and the massive Ribble company.
Ribble begat Stagecoach ...
... and Blackpool Transport absorbed Lytham/Fylde.

Over the years, Stagecoach has progressively cut back its services in the greater Blackpool area; its recent curtailment being the last few local routes.
This leaves Uncle Brian Souter with just three services to Blackpool.
The 42 from Lancaster is hourly ...
... the "coastal" 68 via Lytham is every 15 minutes ...
... and the so-called direct 61 runs every 30.
And that's it.

Recent history shows two longer distance routes that no longer exist. There was the X61 all the way from Manchester ...
... run by Stagecoach.
The X61 was part of a huge list of express services that ran to "The Seaside", many of them summer only.
Another "lost" route appears on the old xephos data as service 80 ...
... between Preson and Fleetwood via Inskip. Broadly speaking this followed the B5269 which lies in between Stagecoach's 42 and 61 services.
The service 80 was operated by Cumfybus (of Liverpool) ...
... seen above departing from the glorious and/or reviled Preston Bus Station.

The present 80 runs from the Preston end to Myerscough via Inskip ...
... and is operated under tender to Lancashire by Preston Bus.

The pieces of chess are nearly all in place now for the game which would appear to end in checkmate on 18th January 2017. (click on the panel below to enlarge)
The final piece on the board is a company called Classic Bus North West Limited. It provided (and still does) vintage buses for private hire, Its current web site lists a total of 9 vehicles although it is not clear how many of them are currently available.
Let the chess begin!

 Next Blackpool blog : Wednesday 30th November 

Monday 28 November 2016

Bus Break at Blackpool (1)

Trams, Tower and Trouble
Blackpool was famous for its trams, being, for many years, the last place in the UK where you could ride on this form of transport as a "normal" service.

The first part opened on 29 September 1885, a conduit line from Cocker Street to Dean Street on Blackpool Promenade. It was one of the first practical electric tramways in the world, just six years after Werner von Siemens first demonstrated electric traction. The inauguration was presided over by Holroyd Smith, the inventor of the system, and Alderman Harwood, the Mayor of Manchester. It was operated by the Blackpool Electric Tramway Company until 1892 when its lease expired and Blackpool Corporation took over.

Various extensions took the line from Starr Gate to Fleetwood. At the southern terminus (Starr Gate) there was a turning loop ...
... and the line spent most of its time separate from traffic, but not from pedestrians, t5rundling along not very reserved track  along the esplanade. Once north of the crowded tourist-filled area, the track becomes more reserved and even fenced!
But in Fleetwood ...
... trams run along the street! Very exciting, especially for innocent visitors who have drive almost the whole length of the line with trams safely separated.
This was traditional UK tramway, albeit for only a short section.
But it has to be said that the system was becoming very tired, Would the council close it down? Would there be money to upgrade?

On 1 February 2008 it was announced that the Government had agreed to the joint BTS and Blackpool Council bid for funding toward the total upgrade of the track. The Government were to contribute £60.3M of the total £85.3M cost. Blackpool Council and Lancashire County Council would each provide about £12.5M. The Government's decision meant that the entire tramway was upgraded and 16 Flexity 2 trams replaced the fleet.

A new depot was built at Starr Gate and the super trams now ply the line ...
... even through the streets of Fleetwood.

Somehow the new trams do not have the "character" of the old, but nostalgia junkies can still enjoy regular "Heritage" days when "proper" trams provide an expensive memory of the recent past.
Heritage trams only serve limited stops ...
... and however splendid a ride may be, it just isn't the same as the good old days.

A real highlight of Blackpool trams has been (and still is, heritage-wise) the special trams, illuminated to enhance the famous street decorations.
Of course, the trams pass the tower.
Blackpool Tower is a tourist attraction in Blackpool, Lancashire, England, which was opened to the public on 14 May 1894. Inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it is 518 feet (158 metres) tall.

When the tower opened, 3,000 customers took the first rides to the top. Tourists paid sixpence for admission, sixpence more for a ride in the lifts to the top, and a further sixpence for the circus. The first members of the public to ascend the tower had been local journalists in September 1893 using constructors' ladders. In 1897 the top of the tower caught fire, and the platform was seen on fire from up to fifty miles away.

The tower was not painted properly during the first thirty years and became corroded, leading to discussions about demolishing it. However, it was decided to rebuild it instead, and between 1921 and 1924 all the steelwork in the structure was replaced and renewed.
One of its most recent improvements (in 2011) is the creation of glass floors as seen here.

Most buses (and the trams) are run by council owned company Blackpool Transport. It, too has had a recent revamp with a new swirly paint job ...
... and subsequently, a new logo.
fbb is not at all sure what was wrong with the old one!
Stagecoach buses run into Blackpool from Preston, but smaller operators should sway over most of the services tendered by Lancashire Council.

And so to "Trouble".

There is also some direct competition for Blackpool Transport; thus it was a some interest when a correspondent sent this extract from "Notices and Proceedings", the on-line "journal" of the UK Traffic Commissioners. (click to enlarge the image below)
It tells of a revoked operator's licence and the disqualification of a Mt Philip Higgs as a director of any bus company; in other words Catch22 Bus is being put off the road officially and terminally from 18th January 2017.

So what is it all about?

Needless to say the tale is complex and confused. fbb will attempt an unravelment tomorrow.

 Next Blackpool blog : Tuesday 29th November