Friday 30 June 2023

It's All Very Simple - Or It Was!

Pay Attention At The Back

We now know that:-

Fastrack A runs from Dartford via Joyce Green to Bluewater (ORANGE)

Fastrack B runs from Joyce Green via Dartford and Bluewater to Gravesend (GREEN)
To these we must add Fastrack AW which runs from Dartford  via Joyce Green to Gravesend. This is not on the above diagram but it has one of its own, confusingly also shown in orange. (click on the map for an enlargement.)
When Roger French visited a couple of years ago he was very enthusiastic, as was the boss of GoCoach whom he met on the day and whom shared soe details of how things were going.

GoCoach's AW is shown as running 24 hours a day and seven days a week and Rog commented that timetables were on display at every stop of its limited stop route. 

Frequency is every half hour, augmented to every 15 minutes at shift change times. Buses only stop at the time points shown above.

When Rog visited he observed several buses in a dedicated Amazon livery ...
... ably assisted by GoCoach yellow painted beauties until all the new intake had been "done". 
These newcomers were second hand from London Transport and white on blue blinds were "de rigueur". 
There was a flat fare of £2.50 and the local mafia averred that Amazon employees travelled free.

So it was a massive investment by Amazon and a massive commitment from GoCoach at a time when drivers were beginning to be in short supply. It was also a poke in the eye for Arriva and Fastrack for surely it would snaffle, not only Amazonians, but also classic passengers seeking a faster (and cheaper?) ride.

So why couldn't fbb find the GoCoach timetable?
An on-line article, written less than a year after Roger's enthusiastic visit, explains all.

Kent bus company Go-Coach are to cease operating the AZ bus with Arriva set to pick up some of the slack from next month. The service has run 24/7 since commencing in August 2021 paid for by Amazon.

Single fares began at £2.50 upon launch but were raised to £3.30 a couple of months after services began. It also appears the service – which are also usable by the general public – has struggled to gain passengers. Slow speeds, traffic congestion and high fares havn’t helped. Buses frequently become stuck around the Dartford crossing.

Arriva – which operates Fastrack services – are to divert their Fastrack A route to serve the site, which will lessen the “Fast” element of that service somewhat.

Arriva also states that they will operate a dedicated AZ service beside the Fastrack diversion but give no details. In fact, Arriva’s general lack of publicity is a sorry state of affairs. Their website gives little knowledge to the public of just how and where they will mitigate Go Coach dropping operations.

Bit we do now have the Arriva AZ times, still running seven days a week with roughly the same schedule every day.
A bit of a come-down, is it not?

So, very little AZ and a reduced frequency on the A and B is not a ringing endorsement of Kent's "award winning" and "prestigious" Fasttrack.

We may return to the AV in due course, but it ceases to be a major consideration.

Starting from Dartford, however, we have Fastrack B providing a local town service to Temple Hill and Joyce Green, now DARK BLUE on this map.
Route B travels round the easterly part of the estate and finishes at a lavish turning circle roughly where various former routes called at Joyce Green Hospital.
Later, green LT "Country" buses begat Kentish Bus ...
... which ultimately became Arriva. Here is a Fastrack B at the terminus ...
... from where a footbridge leads across the new A206 ...
... to where the hospital isn't.

Meanwhile route A runs round the western edge of the estate and briefly touches lips with route B before joining the bus only busway ...
... which also crosses the new big road.

Apart from a jiggle for the Amazon bus station, buses have their busway (called thr Kent Fastway) ...
... all the way to the Dartford Tunnel/Bridge (over the tunnel approach and under the bridge). 
Here we see the busway from the west (Amazon) side (note the barriers to prevent unauthorised use)  ...
... and then looking back from the east where the busway joins the A206.
Fastrack is then running on the conventional A206. This road turns sharp right to join the "old" Lonn Road.
Straight on is Greenhithe station where A from Dartford to Bluewater meets up with B from Bluewater to Gravesend.
At the top of Greenhithe station approach there is a bus/rail interchange between Fastrack and local trains run by South Eastern.
But we can now join route B on its somewhat wiggly route to Gravesend. More fairly Slowtrack from now on.

But there is a bit more bus only infrastructure to enjoy plus the ingress to Ingress to investigate before moving on.

Meanwhile : Poacher's Cottage Plus!
Well, fbb did say he was considering an extension, part of his desire to make models just a tad different from their "bought in" format.

When he was still attending the now-defunct model railway club meeting at Buffers model shop, your ardent blogger built a row of four low relief premises from two Airfix/Dapol thatched cottages.
They looked quite sweet on the club layout and fbb added some detail, including a re-thatching in progress on the left hand single deck cottage, just poking into shot below.
The left-over kit's bits fits the bill and formed the basis of the bodged extension.

But there is a BIG problem wth the Poacher's Cottage model. Can you  remember fbb's irritation with most models of thatch? There is a design catch, a plan to hatch - and reality to match!

 Next Variety blog : Saturday 1st July 

Thursday 29 June 2023

Finding Fastrack Frustrating (2)

Not A Good Day At The Office

On Tuesday, fbb was really struggling with the interwebnet. He found out of date maps, incorrect information and battled with badly designed web sites; all to renew his acquaintance with Kent County Council's "prestigious" Fastrack "network between Dartford, Bluewater and Gravesend. It is so "prestigious" that its frequency has been reduced from every 10 to every 12 minutes.

Three specifics caused fbb grief. Firstly, whilst virtually at Bluewater mega shopping hellhole, he spotted two bus routes c/o Google Maps that he could not, at first,j identify.

Connect 1 is operated by GoCoach and brings a selection of villages within the ambit of Bluewater.
One end is a large loop ...
... which is not well shown on tthe timetable.
If it were shown from Darenth to Darenth via Longfield those opportunities for travelling round the loop would be clearer.

Then there was the 228. It's not much!
It runs on Tuesdays that are schooldays.

Then there was the paucity of network maps. Somehow, your slightly befuddled blogger found a more recent Arriva network map; not complete of course.
Interestingly this geographically accurate map was dated 2023 also shows route AZ which fbb was also hoping to find.

Please do not ask where the old man found it, but it was on a bit of Arriva's web site hitherto hidden from fbb's inadequately prying eyes.

So we now know that route AZ serves an Amazon 'Fulfillment Centre" in the environs of the Dartford Bridge/\Tunnel.

It's a big shed; two big sheds actually.

Once upon a time there were three power stations on the banks of the Thames near Dartford.
They were built line astern from the banks of the river and named, imaginatively, Littlebrook A, B and C. Later they were joined by and then replaced by Littlebrook D.
The Dartford bridge runs along the top of the above picture. fbb is not sure, but those tanks suggest that the power station was oil fired.

The remnants of all this were demolished in 2015 and we can follow the development of the site thanks to Google Earth. Here the power station area ...
...  then the bron fields ...
... and then Amazon!
Eagle eyed readers will observe that there is no vast swathe of car parking space for the 1300 employees; but, above picture upper left, there is - tada - ...
... A bus station.

It is to here that Fastrack AZ hies, joined by other workers services from further afield that Kent's Fastrack area.

Two years ago, Roger French visited said bus station to explore the workings of the AZ. 

But en toute from Dartford to Amazon, buses pass through Joyce Green.

Joyce Green was an isolation hospital initially for the often lethal disease of Smallpox. In its latter years it morphed into a training hospital specialising in infectious diseases. To maintain its isolation, patients were delivered by boat ambulances in the Thames, Indeed, before the hospital was built, smallpox victims were cared for in hospital ships moored offshore.
"Castalia" had what were almost buildings constructed on the deck.
The others seemed very well designed to encourage the spread of the diseases that brought the hapless patients there after a ride on an ambulance boat on the Thames.
When the hulks were retired, a new hospital was built at Joyce Green just inland from the river. But it was quite a way inland.

So "ambulance trams" were installed and operated.
The "system" was quite extensive ...
... running on four foot gauge track. You can just about see the track rncitcling the site in the picure below.
Trams were horse drawn.
As an experiment, they tried hauling cars with a motor vehicle, a World Wat i ambulance "lorry" ...
... but, for unspecified reasons, internal combustion haulage was deemed unsatisfactory and the idea was not pursued. The use of trams ended during WW2 and the track was all removed in the  mid 1940s.

The hospital has long gone, but a few of its paths and roads can be spotted on a recent map ...
Part of joyce Green is now green!
But other parts of the former site are served by Fastrack A, B and AZ.

And fbb did not have to draw a map because he has found a proper one. Phew! The old man would have got it wrong.

 Next Fastrack blog : Friday 30th June 

Wednesday 28 June 2023

Finding Fastrack Frustrating (1)

It's Bluewater Innit?

It started in 1999!
If you want to go to Bluewater by train, you might try Greenhithe for Bluewater station. But you would probably want to catch a bus! Fastrack B will get you there.
But let's indulge in a little nostalgia.

Once upon a time the village of Greenhithe sat happily on the lush and verdant banks of Old Father Thames between Dartford and Gravesend. Ruddy cheeked children could play safely in the street ...
... or continue along Station Road to see a train thunder through - slowly! 
Dad could enjoy a pint at the White Hart ...
... whilst mum took her washing down to the banks of the river and scrubbed away enthusiastically. 

Ah, the joys of living in the Garden of England!

Sadly someone's gone and built on it!
Bluewater is bus border territory where Transport for London meets Arriva! and there is a huge bus station ...
... with only one stop marked on Google Maps - for everything!
The Sapphires (probably no longer so branded), the 483 and the Fastracks are Arriva, the red ones are TfL and the X80 was Ensign and is now First. At a cursory glance, fbb could not identify Connect 1 and 228 but maybe a little morre effort will resolve the anonymity!

TfL, of course, provides no timetable information, just departure lists ...
... and Arriva's web site is unreliable and awful even when it works.

Kent County Council has joined the BOSTIC club. (Bus Operating Service Total Information Chaos). fbb could find nothing of any use whatsoever on the County web site, except, of course, information about service withdrawals and reductions.

But it was the news that the contract with the BOSTIC people had been awarded to GoAhead, and furthermore, that Arriva had not submitted a bid, that encouraged fbb to explore!

fbb was very interested in Fastrack. It was ages ago BBC** that the less old man took a tour of Fastrack - it was in the early days when empty buses were zooming through building sites, green fields, along half made-up roads  and carrying very few passengers!

** BBC - Before Blogging Commenced.

The services ran evey 10 minutes ...
... and the 10 minute headway remained on the two routes ...
... until 2020 when both were reduced to every 12. 
There are various versions of the supposedly current A and B route map displayed on line ...
... and fbb has found it difficult to spot which one is current. 

But nowhere could the frustrated blogger find anything that resembled a network map that offered any sense of reliability. An Arriva map from 2013 on an Ebbsfleet web site was clearly useless.
Even if it had been current it is very difficult to follow. But it isn't up to date so fbb didn't try.

fbb also wondered how things were going with the proposals for Fastrack C and Fastrack D, proposals which were revealed a few years back and duly blogged by fbb.
Then there was a map of the development plans.
And the map still features on numerous web sites.
It looks as if the above expansive plans have been chopped back a bit, because a more recent map (still described as a "proposal") shows only A B and C routes (no "D") ...
... split by fbb into two sections to enable our readers to compare them with existing (or possibly non existing) maps and diagrams.
Another struggle develops to match this with the existing network.

And then there's Fastrack AZ? fbb has not found that yet.

Now thoroughly confused ...

But it's all on line 

... fbb will attempt to create a definitive geographical map of the current Fastrack A and B for tomorrow's blog.

He may fail.

But maybe, just maybe, the electric buses are coming!

More tomorrow.

Poachers Rest Cottage
With the rebuild of the outdoor layout indoors, fbb had a gap in his townscape. The gap wasn't very big, but would be OK for a small cottage. In the far distant past (a modest 60 years ago!) he had constructed an Airfix thatched cottage kit purchased for two whole shillings.
But that was too easy to glue but too hard to paint neatly despite the kit's still being.on sale today from Dapol. 

Then he happened upon a vintage (well, 2003) Hornby resin model, ready to plant, entitled Poachers Cottage. And it was well priced on EBay.

It would definitely fill the gap nicely.
The "Skaledale" range was new back then but models are rarely repeated and the Poachers Cottage is not often seen on EBay with most retailers showing "sold out".

However, as a matter of modelling pride, ALL fbb's buildings have been adjusted in some way to make them just a little different from their "as sold" state.

Maybe the cottage needs a small extension?


More from Kent tomorrow.

 Next Fastrack blog : Thursday 29th June