Monday 30 April 2018

Will It Or Won't It?

Will It Or Won't It Number 1
Readers who have stuck with this blog over recent years will remember that kerfuffle over the development of a new Exeter bus station. The developer pulled out just as its closure was announced, then it was to stay open, then it was to close anyway, then it was to stay open.

Stagecoach have now announced a "partial closure" starting on Sunday June 17th.
Buses to Tiverton will move to stop 16 ...
... on Paris Street next to the Park and Ride. Sidwell Street, already used by most cross-town city services will gain two stops ...
... for buses to Exmouth (57 is "GOLD" but that is not mentioned) and ...
... the various 1s via Cullompton. Further along Sidwell Street and well out of the way is the poor quality stop for long distance passengers of National Express and Megabus.
Stop 39 on Cheeke Street is for the 56 to Exeter Airport and round the back way to Exmouth. 
The bosses have pontificated as follows.
Karime Hassan, Chief Executive and Growth Director at Exeter City Council, said:

“We are in conjunction with the operators, that the planned changes to services at Exeter Bus Station will come into force from June 17. This will allow the start of enabling works which are necessary for us to deliver this key city centre redevelopment.”

And for Stagecoach:-
Bob Dennison, managing director of Stagecoach South West, said: 

“My priority has always been to minimise disruption to our customers whilst the new bus station is constructed. “I am therefore pleased that we will be able to continue to use a number of bays at the current location, helping to maintain easy access to the city centre. Our existing Travelshop will also remain open to help with customer enquiries and ticket sales. I look forward to continuing to work in partnership with Exeter City Council as the project progresses and the new bus station takes shape.”

This is for "enabling work". Maybe fbb has missed it, but he cannot remember reading anything about who will be breaking open their piggy bank to pay for all this development.

Do remember as well that the new bus station will be significantly smaller than the old/existing facility, which wasn't really big enough for the services that used it.

Will It Or Won't It Number 2
Kenilworth Station has been finished for months and months.
It lies half way between Coventry and Royal Warwickton Spa on a line currently served by Cross-Country trains (German State Railways) on their way to/from Birmingham. But at a conference attended by fbb a few years ago, one of the Cross-Country bosses said he had no intention of stopping his trains at Kenilworth unless the nasty DaFT compelled him to.
The station has a splendidly huge footbridge and two shiny new platforms - only one track but two platforms!

Instead of an Inter-City type service from Cross Country, longer distance passengers will see their potential trains whizz through and have to suffer an hourly shuttle between Leamington Spa and Coventry ...
... possibly run by an unattractive and low capacity 153. This is NOT what the residents of Kenilworth were promised!

West Midlands Trains have published a timetable from 20th May ...
... but rumours are rife (why aren't other things "rife"?) that trains will start running today.

One reason for the delay is that West Midlands Trains could not find a train to run the service. But it does appear that a 153 has turned up in the back of the General Manager's filing cabinet, hence today's threatened start date.

Nearly 18 months after the original opening date, Kenilworth Station is finally set to open on Monday, with train services calling at the Warwickshire town for the first time since 1965.

Campaigners have battled for more than 30 years to get the station reopened, and at 6.16am on April 30, the first train will depart to Coventry, arriving at platform four some nine minutes later.

Originally, the station was set to reopen in December 2016, but the project has been delayed on more than one occasion since then.

Earlier this year, Warwickshire County Council’s joint managing director Monica Fogarty revealed services would start on Monday February 26, before West Midlands Railway dismissed this, saying that the opening would be "at least 5 March" - representing the fourth delay to the opening.

But Monday's date looks set in stone, with a full, albeit infrequent timetable now available on National Rail's website.

Will It Or Won't It Number 3
Apollo Global Management has made a bid for the whole of First Group and must make the offer firm in early May or back out.

An article in a usually reliable trade magazine ...
... suggests that First Group will be broken up whether Apollo confirms its bid or not. Talk is that the South Western and Trans Pennine rail franchises are in financial "schtum", Greyhound in the US is a basket case and UK Bus is simply not profitable enough to satisfy the "grey suits" that control big UK business.

The article makes grim reading for bus passengers and an unhappy time for bus Chief Executive Fearnley. This is sad, because, in a bus industry overflowing with doom and gloom, First seems to be doing better than most - but in the eyes of the all-important "City", they are not doing well enough.

The article goes on:-

Significant action to reshape First’s UK bus division will be considered in the wake of Apollo’s interest in the company, industry sources have predicted.

One of the UK bus industry’s most experienced managers told Passenger Transport that the case for substantially reducing the size of the division to create a more profitable and manageable business is highly likely to be revisited. He considered that private equity ownership of most, or all, of First UK Bus is a likely outcome, regardless of whether Apollo ultimately buys FirstGroup, due to the need for a new management perspective.

He recalled that in 2013 First had been looking to sell low profit and loss-making companies amounting to around half its UK bus business, but had not been able to dispose of a large number of its worst performing operations which had distracted from the turnround plan for the bus division and contributed to failure to meet profit targets.

First's very survival looks to be in question.

Will It Or Won't It?
Technology Success NOT?
Following yesterday's loony departure screen at Bristol Temple Meads, this offering comes from Roy, one of our prolific Sheffield correspondents.
This display was from Heeley Retail Park (outbound stop) recently.
The 25 to Bradway seems about right, but the X17 doesn't go anywhere NEAR Bradway.
The X17 is on its way to Chesterfield and Matlock.

Many moons ago, Sheffield city route 17 ran via Abbeydale Road, Abbey Lane and Greenhill to Bradway but the service was relatively short lived.

But modern technology is SO-O-O-O useful!
 Next catch-up blog : Tuesday 1st May 

Sunday 29 April 2018

Maintenance Costs Challenge Railways' Budget

But First, From The Real/Unreal Railway
Thanks to Paul from Bristol who sent his baffling example of reliable modern technology at work. If the first train at 1700 is on time, how can the second train be on time at 1645?

A Dr Who Space Time dilation schism?

As Paul writes, "this makes no sense."
Maintenance Matters; Size Matters!
It has been a long, hard winter after last years wet and uninspiring summer, leaving a backlog of routine repairs and re-fettling to be tackled before the busy summer season gets under way. Just like the big railway under the dubious care of notwork rail, fbb is referring to his minimal model railway, set in the non-extensive grounds to the rear of fbb mansions.

Snow was a problem - twice! - a rare occurrence in Seaton.
Earlier in the year, heavy wind lifted the roof from his hand-made carriage shed and deposited it summarily on the paving slabs.
This impact removed dozens of glazing bars that fbb had toiled last year to replace!
New thicker glazing was acquired, but, due to staffing difficulties and poor weather (fbb has been very busy and the summer was unusually wet in Seaton) work has been slow and sporadic.

But one side was completed last week (at last) as fbb installed 57 new glazing bars in a very challenging and fiddly bit of cutting and gluing.
Now the work has to be done "all over" as our trans-pond chums might say.
fbb needs a boost of enthusiasm to get cracking on this one and perhaps a further rethink on the construction methods!

Mostly the layout is quite resilient to weather, but, as in the real full-sized system, bits fall off and have to be fixed on again ...
... easily accomplished with a squeeze of glue!

Just as Nature seeks to regain the upper hand on the big railway, fbb's largely plastic layout has been invaded by out-of-scale weeds.
Fortunately they are a little easier to remove than the real thing!
Structures attract mould ...
... necessitating drastic measures. Fortunately most of fbb's buildings are not fixed down, so (with domestic permission) a transfer to a bowl of soapy water and the application of jiggles with a soft-ish paintbrush ...
... restores most scummy bits. Sometimes neat bleach is needed which, surprisingly, does not harm the paintwork, courtesy of little pots of Humbrol enamel.
But therein lies a snag. Windows begin to fall out! fbb reckons that if you took a real house, immersed it in a large tank of soapy water and jiggled it about, the windows would not survive. With one of fbb's edifices, they didn't ...
... neither did the rectangles of plastic "glass" to which the frames were not very well glued. Several of the bits just disappeared, possibly down the drain in the sink used for the washing process.

Window frames are really difficult to make, especially for a ham-fisted prize bodger-upper like fbb. So off to Peco's shop in Beer to look for windows. There was a pack thereof, produced by Ratio (part of the every growing Peco business) - but they were too small.

What was needed was a complete refit ...
... with new frames to fill he gap. Result? Acceptable ...
... from a normal viewing distance and better than no frames at all.

Fences are a bigger problem. Peco's brown fencing is made from a plastic that is too flexible when new but becomes self-destructively brittle after a few months in the bracing Seaton air.

Snow, wind and cat then wreak havoc!
Fortunately a chum from Church brought fbb some unwanted bits from a charity shop. These are rigid and might (?) survive. But things don't glue easily to plastic grass!

Enter Gorilla Glue!
It is weird and expensive stuff, not really designed for sticking plastic fence to plastic grass! But when it reacts with a bit of dampness it sort of froths up and oozes into all the crooks and nannies, gripping everything like, erm, glue!

The snaggeroo, however, is that you need to hold the bits in place for 20 minutes. Impossible physically when leaning over to the back of the layout. But, balance a model FLF bus on the top ...
... and the result is a firmly fixed fence.
Whether it is cat-proof remains to be seen! There is still more tidying to do around Church Square, but at least the residents of Peterville village won't fall to their untimely death down the quarry face!

But the best part of Thursday last was spent on these simple but time-consuming touch-up and repair jobs, (interspersed with an occasion break for the World Snooker) leaving Friday to get the trains running.

But it rained all day.

Even a gung-ho and slightly irresponsible fbb would not countenance taking mains electricity outside when it was raining. Even 12,000 millivolts do not like the wet. But at least some of the track was de-coked on Thursday.
So to a dry and chilly Saturday to connect up the track and get trains running.

Now here is a question. fbb mansions is not really very big (especially if you steer clear of the servants' quarters!?) so how come a large two metre long white extension cable with 13 amp three pin plug at one end and a two way rubber socket at the other can vanish completely? Not only that, but attached to the socket is (or was?) the transformer needed to power the controller and thus the trains.
Much of Saturday morning wasted trying to rig up an alternative.

Kick the cat (not really) have a cuppa, watch Ronnie being knocked out of the World Snooker and give up looking until a flash of inspiration helps with at least the black box's location.

Then at 1800 yesterday an eagle-eyed Mrs fbb found the lost window parts in the plug hole (see above) so fbb could have put the old ones back.
Perhaps he should abandon railway modelling and take up embroidery?

Back to the big stuff tomorrow. and more bits and pieces up with which to catch!

 Next buses oddments blog : Monday 30th April 

Saturday 28 April 2018

Bournemouth Bits

A week ago today, Saturday, fbb took a quick trip to Bournemouth while Mrs fbb was enjoying a prayer and bible study day (for ladies only!) here at the little Congregational Church on Butt Lane at Bere Regis.
The only bus at Bere Regis is service 187, part of the last remnant of the once-extensive Damory empire.
It only runs on Mondays to Fridays, leaving this little village bereft of buses at the weekends. But ten minutes or so down the road is Wool Station with an hourly service to Bournemouth and London. Timings meant that your exploratory blogger's time in Bournemouth was limited; trains, sadly, not running at suitable times to match start and finish for the Mrs.

The plan was to go to Bearwood.

Why? Simply because fbb had never been to Bearwood, so why not? Yellow Buses, a branch of Paris City Transport (R A T P), had just introduced a new and much reduced network returning to route numbers after a commercially disastrous dalliance with route names and letters.
Publicity for the change was issued back in February where we were told of the cuts, but that colours would remain on printed publicity, on the buses and at the bus stops.
The first thing that fbb noticed was that bus stop "flags" were a uniform yellow and, outside of the centre, carried no route numbers at all.
More Bus (Wilts and Dorset as was) seem to add route numbers to their stops, although the display is a little strange. Perhaps the 13 is super special with free Wifi and the rest are not so equipped?

Many local buses leave from route stands immediately outside the station, with National Express serving the sawtooth bays behind.
There is only one electronic display beside stand 1 ...
... from which fbb confirmed that his service 6 (RED) to Bearwood would leave at 1138 from Stand 2. This left just enough time for buying some money at ASDA.
The bus arrive at 1140 bearing no route branding and no colour ...
... and added five passengers to its modest load. To say that service 6 was a boring route would be disingenuous; it did its job well.
Wallisdown Road begins with Victorian mansions, now in use as flats or offices, followed by 1930s villas ...
... and serves the ever expanding university.
Then comes the delights of Talbot Village, actually in Poole, where sheep peacefully graze on the sun-drenched village green.
Erm, not quite!

Light industry and retail warehousing prevails as the service 6 joins the Ringwood Road ...
... before turning into the Bearwood Estate. The simple route diagram belies a large and complex loop which fbb ...
... found near impossible to follow from his nearside front sat on the 6. Each timetable on the Yellow Buses web site has a Google Maps type route map (as above) which certainly helps. There used to be geographically accurate sectional route maps available, but they seem to have disappeared.

Only one "red" branded bus was seen ...
... the rest were a very mixed bag but all in plain yellow.
Service 4a vehicles, returning via Kinson, all had blue flashes applied, being retained from the previous branding.
At Bearwood, fbb's target was Robinsons Chippy where a special offer cod'n'chips plus added mushy peas and a can of Fanta refreshed the chubby one.
Delicious and cooked to order, a delayed ...
... delight which meant that he had to watch his chosen service 4a depart.

The delay meant a pleasant 20 extra minutes to linger over some tasty nosh and watch the world go by. But it did mean that there was no time left to visit the centre of Bournemouth.

Instead, fbb enjoyed the ride via Kinson, spotting once again, the famous toilets ...
... as frequented frequently by the fbb family on their many car-borne holidays from the Isle of Wight to far flung points west.

The impression gained was that the change to routes and network had gone smoothly only a fortnight earlier but, as always when in Bournemouth, fbb does wonder about the reckless competition between Yellows and More on the Poole corridor.

His bus on route 6 showed "Yellow Buses" on what should have been a next stop display, whereas the 4a delivered screen and spoken word announcements flawlessly.
fbb alighted from his 4a at the busy inbound stop for passengers from Station to Town Centre ...
... with 20 minutes to spare until his train departed for Wool. Although the station has lost in centre tracks, leaving just two main platforms, recent renovations to the roof have brightened the magnificent train shed and added an extra touch of quality to the "travel experience".
But not perhaps a touch of quality to the magnificent station clock.
At 1347 (real time) the left hand face was 9 minutes fast with the right hand clock being 23 minutes ahead of itself. The clock was keeping perfect time on both faces, just perfectly wrong!

Back at Wool, the bus stop was still utterly out-of-date with none of the services shown now operating.
 In fact, at the moment, Wool only has First Bus X54 and X55 (Jurassic Coaster bits) ...
... operating (X54) for an extended "summer" season, augmented by the X55 at weekends and school holidays.

You do wonder at the wisdom of spending loadsamoney on a big bus departure display on the station platform ...
... which duplicates he smaller screen at the bus stop and remains blank for nearly half the year.
How does that expenditure compare with keeping the "flag" up-to date?

No doubt correspondent Ken will have something to say!

But back to the Church at Bere Regis to join (invited!) the ladies for their end of day tea and cake (two portions offered and two portions accepted) before the drive back to Seaton.

An enjoyable day all round but with just a sneaking suspicion that Yellow Buses are not out of the red yet!

 Next as yet unplanned blog : Sunday 29th April