Friday, 20 September 2019

Sensible and Satisfactory : Sheffield to Solihull (2)

Stations between Leicester and Birmingham New Street aptly illustrate the nonsense of the UK's rail franchising system. The stations are operated either by East Midlands Railway or West Midlands Railway ...
... but trains from neither company call there. The only passenger services are operated by Arriva CrossCountry Trains! In another financially lucrative field day for the lawyers there must be reams of agreements and caveats sorting out who pays the bills and who gets the filthy lucre.

Just potty!
Coleshill Parkway is a "new station" opened 12 years ago on the site of its predecessor ...
... named just Coleshill, which closed in 1968.
The new facility is bigger and posher and is designed to attract motoring "commuters" from a wide area.
Buses call as well.
the fbb's train stopped but very few boarded or alighted - it may be busier at commuter times.

The old folks were aiming for Solihull and that would involve trekking from New Street Station to Moor Street Station, a journey fbb had never made sufficiently recently to be certain.

"No matter," though the misguided pensioner, "surely, as part of the rebuilding of New Street, a new walk route had been constructed to link the two."
And there it was, nailed spectacularly to the huge retaining wall on the north side of the tracks. It even had an appropriate name, Moor Street Link.
So fbb, accompanied by a bewildered Mrs, strode purposefully out of the station having ditifully followed the helpful signs.
Aiming tentatively northbound, he espied another sign on a pole ...
... which did not mention Moor Street at all. Bravely, but without indicative encouragement, the gruesome twosome toddled along the eponymous walkway.

At the end of the posh bit ...
... they were cordially thanked for using New Street Station and festooned with garlands as a small jazz combo serenaded their departing steps! (Part of the previous sentence is a lie!)

But there was not a single solitary sign guiding them to Moor Street. Should fbb and Mrs tackle the steps?
Remember, they each had a  case on little trundle wheels. I guess they would have gone that way ...
... and descended another set of steps at the far end ...
... had not a helpful Brummie advised a less arduous, but more frighteing route. "Cross the road," she said ...
... the road being the fairly terrifying Smallbrook Queensway / St Martins Queensway. There, across the road, was a dark and threatening walkway that looked as if it were once part of the road.
Other folk were promenading thus, so buoyed by safety in numbers, the fbbs persevered. It was step-free, it was level and it did, amazingly lead to Moor Street Station.
Moor Street is quite a charming, nay even quaint, station - at least it would be if it weren't almost hidden behind several hundred buses performing terrifying traffic manoeuvres!
The Brum locals seemed to know just when to start crossing, even on a red light; and none were actually killed or maimed as the fbbs watched and followed in fear and amazement.

But, exhausted physically and mentally, they just got there in time for their scheduled 1640 to Solihull.

Unfortunately the three car Class 172 was packed to the gunwales with half the academic population if the city ...
... but another wonderfully nice couple of locals offered their seats to the elderly couple who, no doubt, looked on the verge of some serious medical collapse!

But the shambles of this unmarked route is appalling. Surely even the cash-strapped Birmingham City Council could run to a few signs?

And it ISN'T all on line!

By comparison, Solihull was bliss. First call was to Newswave for sarnies and hula hoops, then ...
... all the fbbs had to do was to walk to the far end of the Bus Stands ...
... turn left along the little path ...
... at the far end of which was the B&B. And an early night!

 Next Variety Collection blog : Saturday 21st September 

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Sensible and Satisfactory : Sheffield to Solihull (1)

Blogging plans have been fluid as the fbb's Royal Progress has progressed royally (!). Instead of the "tale of a bus stop" post that was planned, the old man has a few things to say about yesterday's journey.
The schedule was revealed on Tuesday; and remember that the route from Derby to Birmingham via Leicester was a permitted alternative route, as discovered from the runic Routeing Guide, an unprinted volume understood by very few, even ticket collectors and station booking clerks.
The bus ride from the B&B was straightforward until it arrived at Leopold Street in Sheffield. Then the fbb's service 120 joined a queue of stationary buses.
"You might be better walking," proffered the driver, "'cos we ain't going nowhere." Church Street and trams to Hillsborough etc. were also gridlocked.
Resisting the temptation to correct the tautology, fbb and Mrs decided to do just that, commenting that, as soon as they set off, the buses would start moving. They did and they did!

Fortunately the tottering twosome had allowed extra time by dint of catching a Twirly Bus ("you can't use your pass - it's twirly") and paying their fare of £2 each.

No idea what the hold-up was, but it does illustrate how even a small wodge can paralyse a busy modern city.

Upon arrival at the station, fbb was overjoyed to discover that his ride to Leicester was to be in a gorgeous HST ...
... now in the capable hands (?) of Abellio East Midlands Railway.
Normally HSTs only run between St Pancras and Nottingham, so this was a treat; doubly so as EMT HSTs do not have HBSs (high Back Seats) and the view and the bright ambiance of the journey were delightful.
The train was a last minute substitute for a Meridian.

Departure was six minutes late - unexplained, of course, just "waiting for a signal" - but a late arriving (and thus departing) Hope Valley "stopper" was let out before the London train.  

10 down at Derby and there were more delays as the train crawled up to Trent junction; so 13 minutes late was the Leicester arrival. Poor regulation by the signalman.

Encumbered with luggage, the fbbs used Leicester's lift which takes less ambulant personages to a secret and slightly spooky lift users footbridge, with barriers, but bereft of staff.
Of course, their tickets did not work the barriers (quelle surprise, isn't technology wonderful?) so a phone call to somewhere in the bowels of the station ...
... and a showing of said ticket to a camera finally allowed escape. VERY frustrating!
Chum David collected the pair by motor car and the party made its way via coffee at David's pad to the excellent Stamford Arms at groovy Groby. fbb had Gumbo (plentiful and delicious) ...
... and the Mrs had "Woodland Chicken" (ditto).
The pub serves a wide variety and class of personnel ...
After lunch David took a bemused fbb and a disinterested Mrs fbb out to look at the bus stop outside the pub.
Arriva Leicester, stupidly, have ceased producing printed material (because they don't want any more passengers?) so it's either a display at the bus stop or going on-line. The main routes at this stop are ...
... and here is the non-timetable at the bus stop.
So the question of the moment is, "Which buses run to Burton on Trent?"

Answers on a postcard, please, to Arriva's Leicester depot. Or, test you understanding against the on-line PDF timetable at the end of this blog - but don't cheat, mind!

More time for chat, then a drive to Narborough Station for the 1527 Arriva CrossCountry to Birmingham.
Narborough Station closed in 1968 but, following public protest, re-opened in 1970. David parked at the foot of the steps to the "to Birmingham" platform ...
... which allowed fbb to view the station appurtenances from across the tracks.
It hasn't changed much.
The signal box is now disused and automatic barriers replace traditional crossing gates.
What was particularly enjoyable was the proliferation of flower tubs and superb sunflowers.
Well done whoever done it!

A half hourly service operates along the line (hourly from Narborough) ...
... with the xx48 train running all the way from Stansted Airport.

fbb was impressed by the amount of freight that passed by on its way towards Leicester.
fbb spotted three trains of containers as he sped towards Birmingham. Very impressive!

His (and Mrs fbb's) experience at Birmingham will form part of tomorrow's blog.

And here is the extract from Arriva's 29/29A timetable.
Did you get it right?

Also a reminder that Arriva is owned to German State Railways and East Midlands Railway is owned by Dutch State Railways. Nationalised Railways rule OK!

 Next Birmingham blog :Friday 20th September 

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Trouble-free Travel by Tram Train (2)

From Pumpkin Tram to Stage Coach Train?
fbb left his incredulous readership poised for a Transfiguration. The tram upon which your blogger and a Sheffield chum of long standing (he is, indeed quite tall) was making its way to Parkgate, a shopping centre north of Rotherham.

The tram had come to a stand under the Tinsley viaduct awaiting a "go" tram signal, the vertical line of white dots.
Before the stop dots (five horizontal) changed, the driver had to type a selection of magic numbers into the little black box at the very upper right edge of the above snap. This was telling network rail signalman in his cosy box somewhere in the UK (but who knows where?) that train number 399 201 was ready to encroach on "proper" train track.

Almost immediately we are confronted with a "proper" train signal and we are, without doubt, a train, no longer a tram. 
The track on the right is a remnant of the Great Central Railway's line northbound from Sheffield (and Darnall) by way of a triangular junction just east of the GC's Victoria Station. 

The single track that remains still carries very occasional freight trains.

Now here fbb has to admit not "getting" what was to happen as both lines approached Rotherham. He thought that trams would keep to the left hand track, as seen above, and the very occasional train would keep to the right hand track. Both "services", fbb assumed, would run bi-directionally until just before Rotherham Central Station.


The two tracks quickly join to become one single line. After a short distance, they split again and from this turnout onwards we are on "normal" double track with left hand running.

Ex-trams and rare trains now share the tracks in both directions.

Returning from Parkgate, we see the white-light "feather" (a k a junction signal) telling the "train" that it will turn right off the national rail line and become a tram again.
Confused dot com!

Note also that we have massively over engineered and massively over-priced overhead electric string. "For why?" you may ask.

Just in case?

Just in case, on one fine but far-fetched day, DaFT (the Department for Transport) might get around to electrifying the "Cross Country" routes between Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster. That would be for 25 kilo volt (BIG) electricity and so the trams would need gubbins to enable them to work with loadsa extra go-juice. 

But here we are approaching Rotherham where we note that special tram platforms have been built to the south of the normal infrastructure.
Before we arrive at Rothereham we can just spot the single line passenger link installed to get real trains from Sheffield into Rotherham Central station (map, top right) ...
... Previously they used the now-disused Masborough.
fbb just spotted it in time - sadly almost completely hidden by the tram's (sorry, the train's) windscreen wiper.!
For a short distance our class 399 train will mingle with a wide variety of diesel units off to exotic places like Doncaster! The reality of tram train is in operation here.

And on from Rotherham for about a mile until a left fork ...
... turns the train back into the tram to terminate at the single platform, single track Parkgate station.
On board as the tram stopped were driver and conductor, fbb and chum (who don't really count) and four passengers. On departure a few minutes later there were just three "genuine" passengers. Two joined at Rotherham Central.
At the Sheffield end of the platform, just one white rhombus reminds drivers that instantly they start moving they must change, once again, from terminated tram into a class 399 train.
Is Sheffield's Tram Train a success? Technically, administratively and operationally of course it is. Financially it became a disaster!  But it carries few passengers (as expected) and has no chance of ever being a commercial success. If the "experiment" continues, fbb expects this little bit of train from Tinsley to Parkgate will always need great sackfuls of significant subsidy.

And Talking of Destination Blinds
Here is a new (from 1st September) service 11a. Actually it is not very new. It began as service 28, later becoming cross city 47/48, then under the Sheffield Bus non-Partnership it was numbered 56. Utterly confusing for poor Sheffield residents, and as we shall see in a future blog, horrendously confusing and badly publicised for the latest change!

Anyway, here is an 11a showing destination "Heeley".
But the 11a does not terminate at Heeley; nor is this bus on a "short working". What is going on will form part of a future blog, but for the meantime here is the bus in its full glory at the stop on Sheffield's High Street as used by the 11a route to Herdings.
But what is that ancient red "half cab" doing behind the ugly-liveries First Bus bus?
It is Doncaster Corporation Transport's 188, now in preservation. The Leyland chassis was delivered in 1964 to be fitted with a former trolleybus body.
You can follow its trolleybus heritage by looking at the window pillar behind the front side windows. It is wide because that is where the cables ran down from the trolley poles to the electric motors.
188 lived to receive Donny's very unusual "super stripe" livery ...
Both 188 and its brother 189 survived into South Yorkshire PTE days as driving trainer buses.
The trolleybuses as delivered were the old narrow 7 foot six inch width. Eagle eyed blog readers will note that both vehicles were fitted with extra-wide mudguards to simulate an 8 foot wide body for the purposes of learning the width of a more modern bus. It looks as if the original width mudguards were re-fitted for preservation!

Happy memories!

Photos of "Heeley" bus plus Donny 188 from Roy of Sheffield; NOT Roy of the Rovers, less well known as a bus enthusiast!

Frustrating problems with weak WiFi signal in B&B yesterday evening. Don't shoot the pianist blogger - he's doing his best!

Today the Royal Progress continues from Sheffield to Leicester and Leicester to Solihull.

 Next tale of a bus stop blog : Thursday 19th September