08 February 2017

Riding the new e320/374

M'colleague and I chanced upon a last minute trip to Paris and back, travelling on one of Eurostar's new e320 sets. These new Siemens Valaro variants are 400m long, seat 902 passengers in sixteen coaches with an electric loco at each end. They're categorised in the UK as Class 374s and replace the now ageing e300s, or Class 373s - a number of which have traversed the metals through the LEYTR area in times past when they operated on loan to GNER, running services between London King's Cross and Leeds.

The '374s' started being rolled out from November 2015 and from our observations from travelling recently, they're now the majority traction type between London St. Pancras International and Paris Gare du Nord.

While I headed south to 'that London' from the LEYTR area - on board one of Hull Trains' Class 180 Adelantes, m'colleague headed to London from Ramsgate using one of Hitachi's Class 395 Javelins, operated by Southeastern which use the CTRL (Channel Tunnel Rail Link) or HS1 at it is more commonly known.

My trip from Grantham station was the first time in many, many years that I'd opted to travel with Hull Trains. It can be easier to travel with VTEC or Great Northern from Peterborough, though the promise of Grantham to London non-stop in around an hour was too much of a pull, especially on a day when we'd be touching 186mph (300k/h) on numerous occasions during the same day. The Hull Trains '180s' are wearing well, save the odd section of gaffer tape covering tears in the carpets here and there, and the leg room in Standard was more generous than I'd expected. The TV screens in each coach were working and showing, as advertised, the weather at the next stop (London), today's news headlines, progress along the route and onward connections from the next stop. With this being King's Cross, many of the connections were pointless and few would be travelling north from King's Cross, although the Underground service statuses were likely to be useful.

Hull Trains 180109 is seen upon arrival at London King's Cross, next to a VTEC Mk 4 DVT

Yet while my '180' (180109 - as featured on the cover of this year's LEYTR) had a top speed of 125mph and m'colleague's '395' an impressive 140mph (225k/h), I'd be averaging 91mph over the 105 miles from Grantham to London, whereas m'colleague would be averaging just 60mph over the 80 miles from Ramsgate to London - and this with a large percentage of his journey being along HS1. Yet drilling down shows the 'classic lines' section hampering overall average speed: the first 24 miles being on the 'classic' lines and with five stops, averaging 38mph, thereafter (from Ashford International) the pantograph was raised and the train ran non-stop to Stratford International (50 miles) at a whopping average of 107mph.

M'colleague benefits from being an employee of a TOC and is afforded a sizeable discount on international rail travel through a FIP card (issued to rail staff after one year's service). His return fare to Paris totalled £75, comprising Standard on the outward leg and Standard Premier on the return. The public walk-on fare for an equivalent ticket was £338. There are now three classes on Eurostar services - Standard (10 coaches), Standard Premier (3 coaches) and Business Premier (3 coaches). Complimentary food and drink are offered in both Premier classes, though the Business offering comes with menus designed by a Michelin Star-rated chef and unlimited hot drinks. Standard Premier affords travellers an airline-style tray of food, wine/beer, tea/coffee and water.

As a comparison to the £388 walk-on return fare, Skyscanner showed the cheapest London to Paris fare to be £120 for travel tomorrow. Public transport costs need to be added for airport transfers, of course, (an estimated £40 minimum) but even at a total of £160 this is considerably cheaper than Eurostar's walk-on fares. However, if you opt for Business Class on the plane then the walk-on fare increases to nearly £500. That was the cheapest and returns were from differing Parisian airports. A fully flexible non-discounted Eurostar Business Premier fare is £490 and includes a premium meal. I doubt whether a plane can offer that experience on a flight of such short duration.

Congestion in the Welewyn area saw my arrival in excess of 10 minutes late (an emergency speed restriction was also blamed for the delay) and having met m'colleague who was mid-conversation with the returning Hull Trains driver at the buffer stop of Platform 5 (it's a railway thing!) we headed next door to St. Pancras to check-in - a process that, in my opinion is flawless. The barcode on your ticket grants you access to the check-in hall, and after you've been through British Border Force for a passport check you're brought to the security hall and the obligatory airline-style baggage scanner. As m'colleague discovered, an Apple Watch will set off the manual detector, necessitating a full body rub down to make sure nothing was being sneaked through.

In a nod to the airlines, Business Premier passengers have their own departure lounge and complimentary food and drinks, while everyone else waited in the main waiting area, with plenty of exorbitantly-priced snack shops to spend your money in; £1.89 for a bottle of Buxton water, for example.

Eurostar's e320s are allocated a TOPS number 374 in the UK, though in reality the trains do not show this. Their set number is in the 4xxx series (the e300/373 set number is in the 3xxx series)

The departure platform was notified just ten minutes before departure and so there was something of a dash up the travelator to the platforms above. At St. Pancras International, platforms 1-4 are used by East Midlands Trains, 5-10 for Eurostar departures/arrivals, and 11-13 are utilised by Southeatern's High Speed domestic services. Beneath the station are platforms A and B which see Thameslink services calling, bringing passengers as far afield as Gatwick, making St. Pancras an ideal locality for international services - far easier to reach by so many different modes of transport than Waterloo is, which is where Eurostar services previously used as their London terminus.

Class 374 sets are built to European loading gauge standards - they are quite visibly larger than the '373s' they replaced - and can seat 150 more passengers than their predecessor. They are 16 vehicles in length compared with 20 of the Eurostar (18 coaches plus 2 power cars). Legroom at table seats in Standard was poor - the '374s' retain the narrow table with extendable sides, making the interiors seem a little more spacious than they probably are. That said, 'cramped' would be a little unfair, but the interior was certainly devoid of any embellishments.

Old meets new. The more pointed front of the '373' stands out against its younger counterpart. Those wishing to travel on these earl-1990 stalwarts should book for Brussels as the '374s' have yet to be introduced here. 4008 (left) was our chariot to Paris

Our 1224 departure was punctual (following an announcement in English and then French). The high speed line starts just 1km from St Pancras and Stratford came and went in a flash. We were soon slowing for our only stop at Ebbsfleet International to pick up more passengers. With the line speed now 186mph (300k/h) no more than 15 minutes was required to get to Ashford, soon after which we began slowing for the Channel Tunnel. There were no special announcements to tell us this was happening and entry into it was quite muted. We had slowed to around 50mph shortly before entry - we would be slotting in with Eurotunnel 'le shuttles', which are slower to accelerate and limited to 87mph (140k/h). Eurostars are permitted 99mph (160k/h) through the Tunnel, giving us a transit time of 20 minutes for the 50km long dive under the English Channel.

Interestingly, m'colleague's iPad was still recieving a decent signal from O2 inside the tunnel but his iPhone had no signal from Three. This brings me to the on board Wi-Fi. It is essentially poor, patchy at best.

Emerging from the Tunnel we could clearly see the huge loop for Eurotunnel trains diverging to our left and we were soon passing the little-used station of Calais Frethun. It was only then that we began to reaccelerate towards our maximum 186mph cruising speed. The line is relatively flat between Calais and Lille. There are a few climbs and dips and because of our speed these were quite noticable. Passengers walking through to the buffet car were holding on - its definitely not as smooth as travelling at 125mph on the ECML! We began slowing for our transit of Lille station which is underground and has a speed limit of 200kph. It is here where trains diverge towards Brussels. Once clear of the area we reaccelerated to our 186mph line speed but the line is noticably busier as we now share the tracks with services from Brussels, Thalys services from Amsterdam as well as domestic high speed services from Boulogne and Lille.

We were slowed to 'truck speed' with some way to go for some reason - I suspect a TGV called at one of the new intermediate stations on the line before we reaccelerated to high speed for around 5 minutes and then slowed for our transit on 'classic' lines for the 15km or so into Paris Gare du Nord. Unfortunately we were brought to a stand at Garches Sarcelles, which is around 13km out and this made our arrival around 10 minutes late. Trains stop particularly close to the buffers as a high-profile faux pas occurred when the '374s' were first tested: they were too long to be fully accommodated onto the platforms at Gare du Nord!

The arrival at Paris Gare du Nord is almost nondescript by comparison to St. Pancras, however it feels like a more traditional station, with plenty of hustle and bustle. Gare du Nord is also home to many other cross-boundary high speed services

Paris Gare du Nord station is undergoing extensive improve work but its platforms are dominated by TGV train sets but I did spot an older loco hauled and some of the new Z50000 EMUs operating suburban services which have a continious open gangway through the vehicles. With just 90 minutes before check-in for our return journey, we decided to get some Metro trips in. M'colleague purchased four tickets for just over 7 euro (single trip on the tube is over £4 and only in zone 1). We boarded Line 4's MP89 rubber-tyred Metro train as far as Chatelet Les Halles. From there we boarded a driverless Line 1 train to Gare de Lyon. Driverless trains are not a new phenomenon, of course. Docklands Light Railway are in essence driverless but they still retain a passenger service agent where Line 1's MP05 trains do not. There are platform edge doors at every station, similar to those on the Jubilee Line at Canary Wharf. It felt more like an airport transit shuttle than a proper metro train.

Photography deep underground is always a challenge when your subject matter is moving at speed and you've not got an expensive camera. Seen here in less than salubrious surroundings is an MP89 rubber-tyred train on Line 4 departing Chatalet Les Halles. While one-way tickets on the Paris Metro are unquestionably excellent value for money, the state of the underground stations and ticket halls is very poor when compared with the excellent work TfL and London Underground have done over the past decades

From Gare de Lyon we transferred onto RER Line A for one stop to experience a double-decked train MI2N back to Chatelet Les Halles. From there m'colleague (who has considerable more experience traversing Paris than me) was hoping we could do a brief sightseeing tour on the surface. He was wrong. Chatelet Les Halles is a maze. And it's deep underground - about 5 levels. It took us about 15 minutes to find the right exit and get to the surface. The idea was to walk on the surface from Les Halles to Chatelet but thanks to Google Maps being unable to make up its mind which walking route to take or even which way it was facing we had to resort to looking at a good old-fashioned map on a poster board to ascertain our exact location. This was not an ideal situation. After something of a dash along a couple of streets, we found Chatelet station and headed straight back on a slow Line 4 to Gare du Nord. I doubt our speed ever exceeded 40kph on the metro.

Eurostar check-in at Gare Du Nord is simply not fit for purpose. It feels shoddily put together with not enough seating and needs a major redesign. While St. Pancras benefitted from effectively bespoke design to accommodate international trains, Gare du Nord feels like Eurostar was accommodated as an afterthought and the cramped conditions almost a punishment for the UK for being exempt from the Shengen Zone.

Possibly the only advantage of the check-in facility at Gare du Nord over that at St. Pancras is that it is all done elevated and the views of the station below are an improvement of what feels like an hermetically-sealed box in London

We boarded our train at 1800, for an 1813 departure and what a difference! Standard and Business Premier coaches share the same seating arrangements, which are 2+1. Each seat has a plug socket and the Wi-Fi works much better. Shortly after departure, we were being served a snack, a roll and butter followed by either salmon or quiche with salad and a crepe for desert. Wine was offered, which we gladly accepted and after that tea or coffee followed. There were also little chocolates. The whole experience was so much more pleasant than being crammed into the Standard class seating.

Now it was dark outside, the return journey was considerably more nondescript than the outward one. The onboard Wi-Fi showed our train's exact location and the speed we were currently travelling at. Normal GPS devises don't work on the '374s', apparently due to a reflective coating applied to the windows, to reduce glare and heat.

Our chariot home (4011), upon arrival at St. Pancras

Our speed never exceeded 295kph, indicative of a cruise control device set at that speed. We slowed for Lille and once clear we reaccelerated towards Calais but this time our speed never went above 280kph. I wondered what the reason was - it became obvious later. We had a seemingly normal transit of the Channel Tunnel but after accelerating away towards Ashford we were slowed down to 50mph. I was able to check Realtime Trains which showed we had been running behind the Brussels service from Lille, explaining our driver's reluctance to run at full speed and that the Lille service was booked to make an Ashford stop. Acceleration was very swift once the train in front had got out the way - we spotted it at a stand in the platform and just 14 minutes later we were arriving at Ebbsfleet International. M'colleague chose to leave the train here, and head back to the coast using a '395', departing just four minutes later, apparently necessitating a light jog along the platform. He also had a  change of train at Ashford but was home for 2045.

The e320 is not in short supply at Gare du Nord. Note the proximity of the trains to the buffer stops. While there are two fewer coaches compared to their predecessor, trains are in fact longer, seat more passengers and initially failed to fit on the platforms at Gare du Nord

I, meanwhile, remained on the '374' to St. Pancras International and trundled across to King's Cross in the pouring rain. With my 2030 departure to Grantham being Hull Trains again (their last of the day and formed of 180111), spotting the correct platform before it was advertised was straightforward for obvious reasons. Also, the station was very quiet at this time, mid-week during the school term.

I opted for Coach A in the '180' again - the Quiet Coach, something a couple also for Grantham were seemingly unaware of, watching as they were clips of Kim Woodburn's interview on This Morning via YouTube. After plenty of passive non-aggression from passengers much nearer to them than me, and there being no change in attitude from the offending couple, I moved into the next coach up where it was ironically quieter. That said, the journey was as enjoyable as the outward one and with less padding in the timetable in this direction, my Adelante required to attain an average speed of 103mph to reach Grantham in 61 minutes.

The attentive service on board Hull Trains was in evidence for both my journeys, with the On Board Manager naming all staff on board. My first ever journey with them 12 years ago saw the guard even name the driver upon arrival at King's Cross. A genuine family feel was felt, although diminished somewhat through the FirstGroup branding and signage, but a very impressive standard is maintained nonetheless

We arrived 2 minutes late, possibly due to the driving rain, but nonetheless, this is one of the fastest was to travel between London and Grantham. An aspiration is to make the journey time 1 hour, but with the current capacity constraints of the ECML, this is not likely to be realised anytime soon. Well done to Hull Trains, however, for being consistently the fastest for travel between Grantham and London though!

In summary, the e320/Class 374 is a worthy successor to its predecessor. Fewer coaches but increased capacity, a much sleeker look both inside and out, and a decent offering in Standard Premier for a little more money. As with any long-distance rail travel, booking ahead is essential in receiving the best value fares, and this stands with Eurostar.

19 December 2016

A Year in Review: 2016

Welcome to the first blog post in over a year. Please accept our apologies for the blog effectively grinding to a halt. A concerted effort is being made to blog more frequently, as and when time permits. Though currently only the Editor will be offering his thoughts on transport news stories nationally.

Using the mobile application Timehop, I noted that a year ago, bookmaker Coral had to suspend its odds that the Queen would abdicate on Christmas Day, for fear that the public and Her Majesty knew something it didn't. There had been a large number of high value bets placed. With this kind of major news story (had it actually happened) coming at the worst time during the last half of December, spare a thought for all those print and TV editors hurriedly coupling together their Year In Review montages.

As motoring journalist, TV personality and cold meat supper-hater Jeremy Clarkson used to say: how hard can it be?

The LEYTR 2016 Year in Review


Pacers dominated the rail-related stories during the first quartile of 2016, with a push by the DfT to replace them at all costs during the next Northern franchise, which would be re-let (and awarded to DB's Arriva) from 1 April. The then-Transport Secretary had a publicised 'war of words' with his most senior civil servant over their replacement being essential despite not being the best value for money - the latter being a viewpoint most important to the government when re-letting franchises.

Barnetby's iconic semaphore signal gantries disappeared at the end of 2015, with this year seeing the resignalling of the North Lincs area, losing controlling signal boxes in favour of the York ROC.

Essential Fleet Services, the new owner of demand responsive transport (DRT) provider Kier, dropped a bomsbshell for Lincolnshire County Council in January when it announced it would be relinquishing all its CallConnect and home to school contracts from 1 April. This would prove an impossible logistical problem for LCC, who were unable to cover the majority of the contracts and were forced to establish their own in-house transport operator, Transport Connect, from 1 September, which took over operation of the affected CallConnect and home to school contracts. The irony here was that the business Essential originally purchased ultimately started out as an in-house, arms length transport operator run by LCC, TransLinc.


England's oldest independent bus operator Delaine Buses announced it had established a Heritage Trust and was in the process of building a museum at its Bourne depot, while LEYTR Treasurer Richard Belton's preserved ex-LRCC Bristol VR 1904, (JVL 619H) was immortalised as a die-cast model by EFE.

LEYTR also exclusively revealed that the planned £29 million Lincoln Transport Hub had been scaled back from the original plans revealed and effectively signed off. A lack of money was cited as the reason. A smaller bus station now no longer adjoined to the railway station and no footbridge link to a new car park on the other side the the railway line would go ahead from September - the first phase - with no guarantee a second and subsequent phase would go ahead.

Bus news dominated the start of the year with the much anticipated Buses Bill, which could effectively see a Conservative government giving local authorities the power to nationalise its bus services. We ran an article in the January/February edition looking at whether re-regulation was such a bad idea.


Industrial unrest at First TransPennine Express had plagued the operator's reliability figures during the second half of 2015 with drivers refusing to work overtime in an argument over management allegedly not sticking to local agreements reached with ASLEF. Though this was nothing compared to what was brewing at Southern.

£7.7 million awarded to LCC from central government effectively saved what few subsidised local bus services the county had. The plan was to effectively end virtually every subsidised bus route and an attempt to cover the gaps with CallConnect, which - importantly - would not be enlarged in size to cope with the likely increased demand.

Stagecoach East Midlands' Marie Curie Daffodil bus was launched during March. Painted a base yellow, donations could be made to have a personalised daffodil added to the exterior, with the proceeds going to Marie Curie. Uptake wasn't as fast as had been hoped (LEYTR has a daffodil on the bus, in conjunction with SKM) though the bus moved around all depots in the operating area and take-up soon increased.


Both FirstGroup and DB's Arriva were successful in being awarded the TPE and Northern franchises respectively and both companies were to invest eye-watering sums of money to bring their fleets up to scratch, most notably Northern, who would spend £1 billion during the franchise, £400 million on 98 new trains built by CAF in Spain.

Brylaine Travel were the first operator in the LEYTR area to introduce a bus tracking mobile application, making it possible to see where all their passenger service buses are at any moment in time and more specifically enabling passengers to see where their next bus is. While other, larger operators offer something similar (and on a technicality National Express was already offering something similar) the clarity, simplicity and intuitiveness of the Brylaine Travel app makes it stand head and shoulders above the rest. It's a shame that some operators still feel offering this level of information to its passengers is something they'd prefer to keep to themselves.


The Office of Rail & Road (ORR) dealt a blow to residents of North and North East Lincolnshire when it rejected Alliance Rail's plan to resurrect GNER and to operate trains direct to/from London. Even more frustrating, the business case to Scunthorpe, Grimsby and Cleethorpes was sound enough, just let down as GNER would run the trains attached to similar rolling stock for Bradford or Ilkley, and would split at Doncaster. Revenue extraction from the incumbent ECML franchisee, VTEC, would be too great on the Bradford/Ilkley runs and the service was turned down as a consequence. Financially, GNER was unable to operate the Cleethorpes-Grimsby-Scunthorpe-London service alone.

The Buses Bill was published on 20 May, which confirmed its objectors' fear that it could empower local authorities to grab the local bus businesses and franchise a wholly different network out - without offering any form of compensation to operators who lose their work. Locally, however, neither LCC nor the unitary authorities of North Lincs, North East Lincs, Hull City or East Riding of Yorkshire showed any desire to do so.

Barnards of Kirton Lindsey ceased trading on 10 May. The family firm had come full circle, having been sold to secretive Island Fortitude before being bought back by private operator AP Travel of Cowbridge.


This month marked half a century since the Seaton Flyer was withdrawn. Operating between Stamford and Seaton, this auto train, consisted of a tank engine and two or three non-corridor coaches operating in a push-pull formation. The Seaton Flyer (also referred to locally as the Seaton Rabbit) had the kudos of being the last steam-hauled push-pull service in Britain. We ran an extensive article looking back at the service, illustrated with photos from the time.

A turn of fortunes at Stagecoach East Midlands would see the much-vaunted bio-methane-converted Optare Solos - some of which dated back to RoadCar days - being stood down and sold, most passing to Reading Buses, who have had success with this method of propulsion. The conversions, while being technically feasible, saw major issues with acceleration and the money promised for a filling station at the Lincoln depot hadn't materialised.

Flying Scotsman made her first visit to North East Lincolnshire since refurbishment on 11 July, hauling the Tynesider. We were fortunate to have 'our man' at Grimsby to photograph the occasion.


TPE had agreed to sent is remaining four Class 170 Turbostars to Chiltern Railways this month - agreed prior to the new franchise commencing. This would see the company operating only Class 185s within the LEYTR area. To free up sufficient numbers, loco-hauled trains had to begin operation in Cumbria. The ex-TPE '170s' would become '168/2s' with Chiltern, following internal refurbishment.

A large number of ex-Chester Volvo B7TLs with Wrightbus Eclipse Urban bodies would be transferred to Stagecoach Grimsby-Cleethorpes from this month, replacing double-deckers sent elsewhere within the local operating group to help remove the last remaining step-entrance examples before the end of the year. We printed a photo of the first example to operate in Grimsby.


Grayscroft of Mabletherpe was in receipt of three ex-London Scania OmniDekkas and received the outstanding fourth this month. These were the first low-floor double-deckers operated by the company and look impressive in fleet colours.

An interesting observation made the local Lincoln press during the summer, when Facebook administrator Ashley Hill studied pedestrian behaviour at Lincoln's High Street level crossing, next to which Network Rail had spent £12 million building a footbridge for people to use following decades of complaints from the public and businesses. Yet Mr Hill analysis, following interviews with pedestrians, showed that people couldn't couldn't be bothered to use it. There were too many steps and the rake was too severe.


Lincoln's City Bus Station closed following the last departure on 3 September. It had been open for 38 years and 3 weeks. Originally built for Lincoln City Transport services, RoadCar had 'moved in' following its purchase of the municipal operator in the early-90s and following the closure of St. Marks bus station (the NBC-RoadCar facility) during the last-90s, it had been Lincoln's only bus terminal. Eighteen months of disruption to the city centre was now underway while Phase 1 of the Lincoln Transport Hub project was being built. A temporary bus station was opened on Tentecroft Street, coincidentally providing a much nicer environment for passengers than that of the City Bus Station.

Both East Riding of Yorkshire and Hull City councils were consulting on reducing spending on subsidised bus services. While EYRC's was so vast, covering the largest unitary authority area in the country, its findings are still to be made, but Hull City chose to effectively stop support for all services with the exception of three routes which would see their frequencies halve.

Vote Leave's battle bus - used extensively during the Brexit referendum campaign - on the side of which was written "We give £350 million to the EU every week. Let's fund the NHS instead" caused controversy soon after a vote to leave was made when the link between the £350 million and the NHS was removed. Vehicle owner Acklams Coaches of Beverley then hired the same Neoplan Starliner coach out to Greenpeace to act as their "time for truth" battle bus on the side of which is now written thousands of questions for Theresa May's administration to answer about Brexit.


This month marked the 50th anniversary of LEYTR subscriber Nigel Rhodes' preserved ex-GCT single-decker Daimler Fleetline, 35 (GEE 418D). We ran an in-depth article written by Mr. Rhodes on the decision he and his son took to 'rescue' the bus in a failed condition from a local sea cadet corps in 1986 and the years it took to bring the bus back to a near-original condition.

First Hull Trains announced it had placed an order with Hitachi for five new bi-mode trains in the form of the AT300, which will replace its fleet of Class 180 Adelantes in the coming years. A decision to invest £60 million towards the new trains was instead of part-funding the electrification of the line to Hull, east from Selby - notably omitted from Network Rail's long-term electrification plan for the north. While NR looked favourably on electrifying to Hull when Hull Trains was offering the lion's share of the funding, it soon decided against it when Hull Trains pulled out, after reportedly losing patience with the time NR was taking to make a decision.

North East Lincolnshire was revealed to have the UK's least competitive bus service on account of Stagecoach operating over 99% of passenger services. Yet despite media bluster, who stepped in during September when Amvale Coaches threw in the towel with its long-standing service to Saltfleet? Stagecoach. Who continues to operate similar service levels despite NELC subsidy reductions and cuts? Stagecoach. While many bemoan their lack of choice and accurately point out this was NOT what deregulation was supposed to have spawned, you sometimes have to be careful what you wish for.


East Midlands Trains released into traffic the first of its Class 158s to have been internally refurbished, as part of its direct award franchise extension. Fitted with free Wi-Fi, USB charing sockets, next stop announcements and compliant disabled-access toilets, it will take the franchisee two years to complete.

Fifteen brand-new ADL E40D Enviro400s entered service with Stagecoach in Hull - the largest investment Stagecoach has made in the city since it purchased Transit in 1995. Frustratingly, prior to entering service a number were loaned to Merseyside in an emergency.

EYMS celebrated its 90th anniversary during October and commemorated this auspicious occasion by painting one of its Wrightbus Eclipse Gemini-bodied Volvo B9TLs into a special livery that showcased the three different colour schemes (technically four with the middle section being different on the offside to the nearside). And very effective it looks, too.

£66,000 was ordered to be spent on putting Grimsby town centre's road network back to pre-December 2014 condition by North East Lincolnshire Council after its contractor - who had to foot the bill - had been unable to grips with continued defects with the 'crazy paving'. While the design saw both road and footpath look identical and theoretically beneficial in slowing down motorists as it makes them think about where the road is, pedestrians complained of not knowing where the footpath ended as a double-decker bus approached.


Delaine Buses revealed it plans to run one of the last step-entrance local bus services in the country when on New Year's Eve it will operate its only step-entrance double-decker, Volvo Olympian 116 (M1 OCT), in passenger service between Bourne and Peterborough. From 2017 all step-entrance vehicles, regardless of their size or shape, are outlawed when providing registered local bus services.

And into 2017...

Perhaps the most interesting news item during the coming year will be the specification for the East Midlands rail franchise. Held by Stagecoach's East Midlands Trains since 2007, the aspirations being considered by the DfT are all-encompassing. While the DfT seems to want to remove the status quo with the traditional crew operation of services at Southern (despite there being no financial saving in doing so), this is seen less likely to appear in the East Midlands specification. New routes and existing services to additional places are likely to be the headline. While transport secretary Chris Grayling is keen to see integration between operations and Network Rail, this could well be more a token gesture than a major change. And for passengers, the ability to travel direct between Lincoln and Birmingham or Grantham and Manchester Airport or to just be able to physically fit on the 1511 Peterborough to Lincoln service with the addition of an extra coach, are more likely to be addressed before anything else.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 

23 September 2015

From the September Archive

Turning back the clock, the following news stories were making the pages of the LEYTR in years past:

September 1985 - 30 years ago
27 September saw EYMS introduce a fleet of seven 16-seater Ford Transit/Dormabile M16 minibuses in Bridlington, and from the following day to Hornsea, operating under the East Yorkshire Little Bus name. Vehicles were 301-7 (C301-7 CRH).

30 September saw the end of loco-hauled services on the Cleethorpes - Newark route, as a consequence of there being insufficient electrically heated coaching stock. The 2-car DMUs that were the replacements struggled to cope with demand.

September 1990 - 25 years ago
The Great Northern & East Lincolnshire Railway Company was granted permission by the government to "make and maintain a standard gauge railway no longer than 10.5 miles" on 5 September, spurring the company on to launch an appeal for £100,000 to purchase and lay trackbed near Ludborough. The route would go on to be come the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway, operational today.

Also on 5 September, KHCT entered into service the first vehicles in its fleet that conformed to DiPTAC legislations. Scanias 809-16 (H809-16 WKH) came with low-step entrances, high visibility handrails, priority seating for the elderly and infirm and nearside route indication.

September 2000 - 15 years ago
The UK's first open access train operator, Hull Trains, ran its first services, linking Hull with London King's Cross and in competition of sorts with franchised operator GNER. Hull Trains began operation using 100mph Class 170 Turbostars ex-Anglia Trans. Ten years later (and under new ownership), during September 2010, First Hull Trains carried its 800,000th passenger, such was the appetite for direct travel between the UK's fifteenth largest city and the Capital.

September 2010 - 10 years ago
Zonal fares were introduced by Stagecoach in Hull. Just three fares were now charged, generally radiating out from the city centre.

11 September 2015

Ticking Boxes

As has been highlighted extensively in RAIL over recent months, the plight of both stations in Gainsborough is not good. If you thought that the three-trips-in-either-direction-on-Saturdays Gainsborough Central has problems, those at Lea Road are proportionately worse considering the number of additional journeys every week.

While facilities at both stations extend barely beyond a bus shelter a piece, Gainsborough rail users have asked Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) to consider making their empty coaching stock (ECS) working from Neville Hill to Lincoln Central most mornings to call at Gainsborough Lea Road, which would effectively be the starting point of the London King's Cross-bound journey. The mirror image would occur in the evening.

The additional call at Lea Road would add up to four minutes on the ECS run, something which wasn't envisaged would cause a problem with the complex pathing that Network Rail undertakes - certainly not before 0700 along the Joint Line. Yet VTEC is unwilling to consider a direct London link for Gainsborough's residents because they can't be bothered. It's too much hassle.

It's not in their franchise specification, so there is no incentive whatsoever for them to spend time and money on it. They claim that there are safety issues surrounding the nine-coach HST calling at Lea Road as the train doesn't have selective door mechanisms, and there are insufficient staff on board. But what is to stop passengers being permitted to board through the 'local door', that the train manager uses?

And this is precisely the attitude that will be taken by franchised bus operators should the Bus Bill permit the 'buy back' of commercial bus routes in counties whose authorities think they can run buses better than the experts. Goodbye flair, entrepreneurship, innovative ideas, promotions and an ability to grow fledgling markets.

Yet travel further north in the LETTR area to Beverley and First Hull Trains, who's free of the shackles of a franchise and its prescriptive tick-box specifications, and what do we see but a private operator introducing a new link north of their traditional terminus in Hull to the minster town. The new link, which commenced in January, not only offers an arrival in Hull from Beverley before 0630, but also operates on Saturdays as well as in the week and is currently being used by a large number of local people making local journeys.

One of FHT's Class 180s seen passing Brough. (Photo: Railway Herald)

The service also collects growing numbers of Leeds commuters at Howden for Selby, who then connect into a First TransPennine Express service from Hull to Leeds (that omits Howden).

So what started out as a gap in the market between the UK's fifteenth largest city and the Capital is rapidly growing to become a very useful local service, appreciated by thousands of locals each week. First Hull Trains is, in addition to offering a direct London service to/from Beverley, also offering new journey opportunities... because they can.

No franchise. No specifications. No government box-ticking. Just a desire to grow the market in any way they can. And with the delay to the electrification of the line from Selby to Hull, First Hull Trains has further safeguarded the Beverley extensions by signalling their intention to purchase bi-mode trains.

18 August 2015

TV mirrors the Coach Industry

Much has been made about the sideways step Messers Clarkson, Hammond & May have made by choosing to unleash their incredibly sought-after brand to Amazon, who, along with Clarkson's long-time producer friend Andy Wilman (also of the Top Gear alumni), will make a new-look motoring programme that, let's face it, Amazon knows will be quite possibly their biggest hit to date.

But why the furore? Amazon will show the show online. It won't be viewable via the traditional avenues such as the BBC, Freeview, Sky, Virgin Media et al.

Yet as I write this, twelve years ago a certain Scots National with a head for innovation and someone who seemed to possess the 'magic touch', was making plans to do something similar with the coach industry.

For it was in 2003 that Stagecoach's Megabus.com first took to the roads - motorways mainly - initially between Oxford and London in a move that many thought strange as it mirrored the company's flagship Oxford Tube turn-up-and-go express coach service between the two locations.

The modern-day Megabus.com uses vehicles about as far detached as those which launched the online-only coach service as is possible. Amazon, meanwhile, is using highly polished stars, immediately recognised.

But of course Megabus.com was the Amazon of its time. Tickets were only available online. And of course, back in 2003, far fewer people had online access. Twitter, for example, hadn't yet been invented and Facebook wasn't founded until the following February. No, back then, Stagecoach had to ensure its promotional machine was in top form and utilising ex-Hong Kong Leyland Olympians, its 'stars' were hardly known and hardly polished.

Amazon has it easy!

15 August 2015

From the August Archive

A number of notable local news stories took place during Augusts in years past.

August 1980 - 35yrs ago
Road Car was given permission to pick up and set down within Lincoln City Transport's operating area on 11 August, charging LCT fares. As a quid pro quo, LCT gained its long-term desire to serve Birchwood Estate. No co-ordination exited between either operator at this time.

On 31 August Stamford lost a bus depot when United Counties closed its sub-depot in the town and the majority of local services were handed over the other local operators.

August 1985 - 30yrs ago
Lincoln's West Signal Box was demolished on 10 August, following its purchase for £42 by a 14-year-old school boy.

August 1995 - 20yrs ago
The success of Stagecoach Express Service 909 (Grimsby/Hull - Sheffield) was such that Stagecoach was operating duplicates using vehicles from Grimsby depot's Peter Sheffield Coaches division. Generally coaches would wait at Gallows Wood lay-by for incoming coaches from Grimsby and Hull and following the transfer of passengers, would take the excess.

12 August saw the end of Routemaster operation in Hull, when EYMS chose with withdraw the iconic vehicle type. The vehicles were latterly used on the route they first made an appearance - Services 56/56A (Longhill).

August 2000 - 15yrs ago
In one of the largest schemes of its kind at the time, Railtrack replaced a pair of twin iron bridges that carried the ECML over the River Trent near Newark on 26-28 August. The repair work cost £8 million.

August 2005 - 10yrs ago
Fire beset a National Express coach working Service 447 (Lincoln - London) on 7 August, following an electrical problem in the engine compartment of Stagecoach in Peterborough's Volvo B10M/Jonckheere 52620 (S460 BCE), which was burned within minutes out on the A1 at Great Casterton.

August 2010 - 5yrs ago
Staying with National Express, and, indeed, Stagecoach in Peterborough, the latter introduced six Plaxton Elite-bodied Volvo B9Rs into service, replacing 52-reg Volvo B12M/Plaxton Paragons during August.

12 August 2015

Not Loving Newark Enough

They were introduced in a blaze of glory, offering a new-look brand for the Nottinghamshire town of Newark, but last week Stagecoach East Midlands chose to withdraw its new Optare Solo SRs and replace them with any spare vehicles in the fleet in return for some ADL Dart/ADL Enviro200s in a Scottish swap with Glasgow depot.

Full details of the acquired Darts are contained in the latest LEYTR (due any day now) though in the interim the vehicles they were effectively swapped with had yet to leave.

So. Farewell then "I Love Newark" Optare Solo SRs, 47842-6 (FT13 ODG/H/J/K/L). Newark loved you so much that you were sent away for good about as far away as possible.

06 August 2015

So. Farewell then "happy" Gemini 3

It's been synonymous with Ballymena-based Wrightbus for around a decade, but LEYTR understands that, following pressure from Lothian Buses and others who order large numbers of these body types, the latest version of the company's Gemini 3 body will be discontinued and given a standardised frontage from the company's newer StreetDeck bus.

Still referred to as the Gemini 3, the new-look vehicle which is already making waves with Lothian Buses on its prestigious Airline 100 route, bares very little resemblance to standard Gemini 3s, with orders being fulfilled at present. Yet the only change is the front. What a different the front makes!

Photo: Tim Butler.

The traditional Gemini body has been part of Wrightbus Eclipse family, with the sweeping curve marking the lower edge of the windscreen on single deckers and the lower windscreen on double-deckers.

The problem, it appears, is that so uniformed is the design, and with so few noticeable changes each time a revamp is made, operators are introducing these brand-spanking-new buses to the roads and passengers aren't noticing the investment. Leading the constructive criticism is Lothian Buses, the UK's largest municipal bus company.

Anyone who knows Lothian knows that its standards of cleanliness is such than you can board an X-reg Plaxton President-bodied Dennis Trident (as I did the other year) and the interior both looks and smells new. Being the recipient of countless Gemini bodies in recent years, and with the interiors being so well refined at any age, it is understandable, perhaps, that passengers simply do not recognise they're travelling on a new bus.

Dramatically changing the design - even if it's just adopting a standardised frontage - will naturally help things along.

Locally, RoadCar purchased a number of 06-reg Volvo B7TLs with Wrightbus Eclipse Gemini bodies immediately before being purchased by Stagecoach. Being delivered well into Stagecoach tenure, they wore a special Coastal Connect livery for the InterConnect 6 (Skegness-Lincoln). They've now been retired from the route, with one of the batch having recently lost part of its roof and operating the Lincoln City Tour.

More recently, EYMS and Delaine Buses have purchased new examples, with Delaine expecting its first and presumably only traditional Gemini 3-bodied Volvo B5TL in the coming weeks. LEYTR understands that EYMS is intending to purchase a batch of Wrightbus's StreetDecks, and has recently been evaluating an example in service.

22 April 2014

Pay-as-you-go Cars

One of the problems public transport faces is the perception that it is more expensive than the private car. On some occasions, this is true; on many, many others, this is simply untrue. Press proponents of private motoring on the issue and rather than admit defeat, they change the subject onto how infinitely more convenient their four wheels are.

In order to inform motorists just how reasonably priced travel by public transport is - especially by local bus - I propose that all petrol and diesel should be dispensed at filling stations for free.

That's right, free. Zero. Diddly-squat.

To me, the problem lies with the manner in which passengers pay to use public transport. While there are moves afoot to offer electronic top-up payment, this will never be rolled out to every bus operator and certainly not to those who use buses very infrequently. You also have to register, often online, for eligibility and to receive your card, in whatever form it takes.

This is far too much hassle for those who poo-poo buses and trains, let alone those who really don't care and begrudge their trip to town every other Saturday night on the local bus.

So, make petrol and diesel free at filling stations. You then fit payment devices in every single car. A little electronic card reader, which scans drivers' debit or credit cards. The cost of driving the vehicle would then be determined on miles per gallon, which of course, is determined by how efficiently the owner of the vehicle can drive.

I believe that if motorists were forced (because you really would need to force them, rather than cajole or enthuse them) to pay for their motoring in the same way as they perceive how they'd pay for public transport, you'd see many converts.

I've been using the excellent website Fuelly for almost two years now. It's effectively a posh calculator, into which you input details of each and every refuel at the local filling station. You state your vehicle's odometer reading, the cost per litre of your chosen fuel type and the number of litres dispensed. A miles-per-gallon figure is then calculated and a £-per-mile premium is also shown.

My car costs 17p per mile to run. Using this data, and knowing how many miles your daily commute is, the likely savings can be seen. But as I've mentioned above, seeing the savings on paper is not good enough. By dispensing fuel for free and then charging motorists per mile to use their vehicle (for me it would be 17p), the savings will be far more widely felt by virtue of how expensive the car is.

From the LEYTR Editorial in Bourne, a commute to the nearest city (Peterborough) is 32 miles, or £5.44 by car. This is 84p more than the equivalent return on the local bus (two buses per hour M-F from 0620 in the morning peak and last return journey M-S at 2015). "Big deal, 84p" petrol heads will say. But over a 5-day week, this is £27.20, compared with a Week Saver on the bus, costing £18.50, meaning a saving of £8.70 and that doesn't include any payments for parking. Over a 47-week period, car users would save £408.90.

Naturally, those who commute by car as they have no competing bus or train or those who commute to Peterborough but then have to head to the other side of the city to one of the many offices where the competing bus doesn't call, will not benefit. Importantly though, they wouldn't be any worse off as their per-mile payment would total the same as if they'd paid for a tank of fuel at a filling station.

But the concept of more literal pay-as-you-go motoring cannot harm the perception of the cost of using public transport. Paying £60 to fill your tank already causes many to bemoan the government and the tax levied. The best way to 'get back' at the Chancellor is not to use your car.

If nothing else, the Fuelly website, which also sees users' mpg data anonymously used to calculate average UK mpg data, throws into sharp light exactly how much using your car costs, with the per mile value. This generally sees private motorists commuting medium distances against a competing bus or train service paying more. My method of expressing just how much more they're paying by forcing motorists to pay to use their car in the same way they would for a bus or train is controversial. But then so is increasing the cost of fuel by 2p as each and every government over the past two decades has discovered.

14 October 2013

A Transport Stocking Filler?

With Christmas fast approaching, now is the time to worry about gifts for friends and family. What do you buy someone whose interest in local transport is something you know very little about? A subscription to the Lincolnshire & East Yorkshire Transport Review is the obvious choice.

Find out who we are and what we provide six times a year all for £10 by clicking here.

Celebrating our 50th anniversary during 2013, a special 56-page A5 publication has been produced by the LEYTR Committee. The main article covers over 40 pages and reviews the main transport stories to have featured in the pages of the LEYTR and its antecedents since 1963.

CT Plus caused a stir in Hull when it won the contract to operate the Pride Park & Ride service from incumbent EYMS. From what date did they first run the service?

In what year did Grimsby-Cleethorpes Transport stop running on Christmas Day?

On 19 August 1989, Road Car closed one of its depots and sold it to Fowler's Travel as a going concern. Which one was it?

Kingston-upon-Hull City Transport purchased a substantial number of Leyland Atlanteans to replace its last trolleybuses, but when was this?

Stagecoach Grimsby-Cleethorpes operates Service 16 between Grimsby and Wybers Wood, but on what date did the service first operate and with whom was it originally run in partnership?

On what date did the rail service linking Cleethorpes, Ulceby and Immingham Docks close?

East Coast hired a Class 390 Pendolino from Virgin Trains to test its capabilities along the East Coast Main Line. On what dates was the electric multiple unit used?

Humber Airways began a regular passenger flight between Hull and London in which year?

Closed as part of the Beeching-inspired cuts, the Spalding-to-Peterborough section of line re-opened after a short spell of closure. When was this?

The November of which year saw all National Bus Company express service route numbers change to conform to a common series following the introduction of the National Travel brand?

Road Car introduced the first Leyland Nationals to its fleet in the same year it closed its Sleaford depot, but when was this?

Brylaine Travel introduced 8 new Optare Solos on InterConnect 5 from Boston and Spalding to Lincoln, but from which month did the new service start?

On what date did Arriva Midland Fox close its Stamford depot?

On what date did the last Bristol VR operate in regular passenger service with EYMS?

On what date did Stagecoach introduce the Megabus Plus concept to the LEYTR area, operating from Hull and Scunthorpe to East Midlands Parkway and thence a connecting train to London?

Lincoln City Transport made cuts to daytime frequencies as a consequence of the introduction of one-man operation; this saw frequencies of every 15 minutes drop to a bus every 24 minutes, which served only to compound matters for the municipal operator. In what year did this occur?

The summer of which year heralded the first open-top bus services along Skegness sea front, operated using a pair of ex-Southdown Bristol F6SGs by Road Car?

InterCity 125 254029 was the first High Speed Train to run a passenger service from the LEYTR, operating a charter from Hull organised by the Hull Times. When did the service operate?

In what year did Peter Shipp join EYMS as Traffic Manager?

The Grimsby-Cleethorpes Transport fleetname was replaced by a simple GCT logo on the sides of the municipal's fleet from which year? It coincided with the painting of three acquired ex-LT Fleetlines into special commemorative liveries.

On what date did the last Stagecoach bus service to service Market Deeping occur?

In what year did Grimsby independent coach company Granville Tours cease?

Centrebus replaced MASS Transit in Grantham from when?

In what year did Lincoln City Transport introduce its new-look cream with four green bands livery?

In preparation of Deregulation, United Automobile split its operation which saw its Scarborough depot pass to EYMS. When did this occur?

From December 1987, Road Car introduced improved services in which Lincolnshire town to combat competing minibus operation by ex-NBC 'sister' Eastern Counties?

What was the last day of Barton Transport's operations in Stamford? This heralded Delaine's current operation from the town to Peterborough via Barnack and Kimes/Centrebus' via Wittering.

On what date did both Scawby and Hibaldstow lose their railway stations?

In which year did Hunt's of Alford introduce their first double decker?

During the summer of which year did British Railways withdraw its planned closure notice for the Brigg Line?

From what date did BR's Regional Railways first introduce one-car Class 153s on the Barton Branch and between Cleethorpes and Newark?

The last InterCity 125 service from Cleethorpes to London operated on what date?

In what year did Grayscroft Coaches of Mablethorpe celebrate their 70th anniversary?

From 1 July in which year did Stagecoach enhance its 'Humberline 909' service to 'express' status and extend it every hour from Doncaster to Sheffield and Meadowhall, replacing Duple Laser-bodied Leyland Tigers with Volvo B10M/Plaxton Premiere Interurbans?

GNER was the first privatised company to operate rail services in the LEYTR area; on what date did it take over from British Railways?

Waddingham-based Enterprise & Silver Dawn, who'd operated competing services in Lincoln for many years, was sold on 4 January 1997, but to whom?

In what year did British Railways first propose the closure of the East Lincolnshire Line?

In what year did Manchester Airport Group pay a reputed £8 million for a controlling stake in Humberside Airport?

From what date did GNER start using leased Class 373 Eurostar train sets on its White Rose services between London and Leeds via Grantham?

In what year did Grimsby-Cleethorpes Transport turn down the chance to buy a trio of Willowbrook-bodied AEC Reliances from London Transport (the RW chassis)?

In April of which year did Cleethorpes independent Peter Sheffield take over the business of Redbus of North Cotes?

12 February marked the date RW Appleby passed into the hands of its receivers. But what was the year?

In what year did Lincoln City Transport introduce the 'Autofare' (no change) system, in a bid to speed up loadings?

The Horncastle Bus Club was a revolutionary co-operative of its time, running a local bus service between Louth and Horncastle on a not-for-profit basis, following Saturday experimental running. Tennyson Tours was the first company to run services for the Club, but in what year did this commence?

Both Grimsby/Cleethorpes and Lincoln saw their first low-floor local bus services during 1998, but which area received theirs first?

In which year did Veolia Transport purchase the Dunn-Line business, giving the company a foothold in both Lincoln and Hull?

2007 saw a new operator to Lincolnshire operate an hourly service from Lincoln using Leyland Lynxes, in a bid to offer an alternative to the train. But to where?

Cavalier of Long Sutton was purchased by Stagecoach on what date?

In what year did Brylaine purchase the businesses of JE Lancaster of Tetford and Fenwick's of Old Bolingbroke?

Road Car replaced the 'Cavalier' name for its network in Newark with 'East Notts', but when did this occur?

The answer to these and hundreds of other transport news stories can be found in the special 50th anniversary edition, Celebrating 50 years of the Lincolnshire & East Yorkshire Transport Review.

Copies are available costing just £2 each plus £1 p+p per copy. Please make cheques payable to 'Lincolnshire & East Yorkshire Transport Review' and post to LEYTR Secretary, 159 Clee Road, Cleethorpes, DN35 9HY.

05 July 2013

Gibraltar - Update

I've recently returned from a few days in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar - a location considerably British (and proud)! I've covered a number of past trips to Gibraltar over the recent years and on this latest visit there have been a number of enhancements and improvement to the bus network there.

Unchanged since last time is that Calypso Transport - the only private bus company in Gibraltar to operate full-size PCVs on stage-carriage services - has invested in a trio of MAN Lion's City single deckers, new to an operator in Germany. All feature air conditioning and dual doors and have been painted in a modified company livery of red and black, rather than red and white, which features on the other vehicles.

Also unchanged is the company's sole Leyland Atlantean with Willowbrook body, with its chassis constructed in Lancashire and its body at Loughborough and it was exported to Baghdad in 1981. It's been with Calypso in Gibraltar since the 1990s. Unlike my last visit last year, the bus now looks in good order; it's been repainted and its nasty offside lean has been corrected. It has also been fitted with front and rear digital destination displays - they're modest affairs, but not many British Atlanteans can boast this type of retrospective treatment. The digital blinds replace route number and destination vinyls stuck onto the front and rear rather crudely, so those who bemoan such 'advances' in technology can at least be assured a well set out front roller blind was not sacrificed.

The Gibraltar Bus Company's eighteen TransBus Dart SLFs were also plying their trade along the streets of this historic city, as they've done since March 2004. They're soon to be replaced, though a decision by the Government of Gibraltar as to who will replace them has yet to be made. I understand this will be made in the coming months. The first new vehicles to arrive will do so nine months after the order is made.

Despite the Mediterranean temperatures being in the low-to-mid-30s, the Darts have been a stalwart for Gibraltarians for the past decade. It has to be said, few operators would rate the Dart as coping well in very hot temperatures, lasting months at a time. Even fewer would purchase a batch where the terrain is narrow and very hilly. Their 8.8-metre chassis enable them to navigate most of the roads in Gibraltar with relative ease. They also perform well on the hills, with a full load and air conditioning blasting out in the high temperatures. I suspect they've had help 'adapting' to their home, where on a good day they can be seen from Africa.

Does anyone know if other Dennis/TransBus/ADL Dart SLF have been made for European markets, or even further? ADL has improving exports to North America, Honk Kong and New Zealand, but I believe these are for double-deckers. My gut instinct is that this batch of 18 Darts are the only left-hand drive versions in operation anywhere. I'd be happy to be corrected, though.

Far less rare 'on the Continent' are Mercedes-Benz Sprinters and the Gibraltar Bus Company has a trio in its arsenal, though two were off the road with long-standing mechanical problems. One had even been sent away to Spain to be looked at. It's a sad state of affairs, but the GBC has to hire a Spanish truck to load their vehicles onto the back of when sending them through Spain for mechanical attention. The Spanish Guardia Civil are all too keen to stop Gibraltar-registered vehicles 'away from home' and to go over the vehicle with a fine toothcomb. They do, however, seem to leave Spanish-registered flatbed trucks alone. Weird, that!

Consequently, one of the two vehicles allocated to the Sprinter route (Service 1 to Moorish Castle Estate) was an 8-seater Toyota during my stay there this week - the Hiaces were the mainstay of the route until the Sprinters arrived two years ago.

The Gibraltar Bus Company has acquired a Ford Transit that has been painted in fleet colours. Its purpose is to operate a free shuttle service from Sandy Bay to Europa Point, though with a Hiace operating Service 1, it was operating the daytime circular Service 7, which normally uses the Toyota. Running the unadvertised Sandy Bay shuttle was another Toyota Hiace, this one in white with GBC stripes added.

But perhaps the most unusual sighting in my time at Gibraltar was a Go London Central hybrid Optare Versa, with 27 seats and dual doors. Measuring 10m, it's far too long to negotiate some crucial routes along GBC's network, though the company is currently evaluating it. Optare is one of a number of manufacturers who have responded to the GBC's invitation to tender. Initially, Optare invited GBC management over to the heart of the LEYTR area - Lincoln - where they wanted to show off the recently converted biomethane-diesel Solos operating with Stagecoach in Lincolnshire in a hilly environment. Luckily, those at GBC were aware that Lindum Hill in Lincoln is not quite the same as the terrain 'on the Rock' so turned down the request.

HOV1 (OP07 ARE) was shipped over from Portsmouth to Santander and put on the back of a (Spanish!) truck and driven to Gibraltar, where it is in the process of being evaluated by the company and its staff. Although the bus has driver air conditioning, it does not have passenger air con and while staff from the government offices have filled the bus on a hill to replicate a likely full load, the amount of strain placed on the vehicle cannot be replicated exactly without it.

That said, it must be quite an unusual sight for people to see in Gibraltar. The bus is being used ostensibly along the southbound route of Service 2 from the Market Place to Europa Point, making it feasible that a TfL-liveried London bus can be seen from Morocco.

Northbound, the bus cannot follow the route of Service 2 owing to a particularly tight turn in the city centre where buses turn right from Main Street into Governor's Lane. The Darts seemingly inch through with their 8.8m bodies, though I've been assured by the GBC that a 9.4m chassis length would be navigable, but nothing longer.

All in all, the stay was excellent, as ever, and nothing like the way in which Gibraltar is being portrayed in the Channel 5 documentary being aired at the moment. The C5 programme is in the warts-and-all vein, which grates on me sometimes. I know watching people in power mess up (be it police, paramedics or lifeguards) shows a human side that is sometimes lost in this type of show, it also airs far too much dirty linen in public - my visits to Gibraltar are superb for none of the reasons shown on C5. Well, apart from the weather perhaps.

On our return, the entire city suffered a power cut, rendering virtually everything electrical out of action. I suspect this doesn't happen as infrequently as here in the UK as people were going about their business without concern (except for the visitors). The buses were very much still on the road and thankfully the airport was running on its back-up generators. The Levante was lingering around the top of the Rock and I was a little concerned we might have to be moved by coach to Malaga to join the plane there (the first departure of the day had to do just that), but thankfully British Airways' Airbus A320 arrived on time and we departed ahead of schedule.

And finally, the long-term withdrawn Leyland Olympian operated by Calypso is in the process of returning to service. As can be seen below, the bus is having front and rear digital destination equipment installed and one day soon it will be back in service, operating Service 5 from the British War Memorial to the Spanish border via the Market Place bus terminal.

11 May 2013

Janet Street-Porter's Bus Pass

British media personality, journalist and broadcaster Janet Street-Porter appeared on last week's 10 o'Clock Live show, in which she and Peter Stringfellow, along with journalist and author Shiv Malik, debated whether or not wealthy pensioners should give some of their entitlements back, echoing sentiments made earlier in the week by Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith MP.

The show's audience is visibly below the age of 25, so the political orientation of the show and I would suggest at least two of its four presenters was always going to be in favour of the wealthy coughing up that little bit more. Stringfellow, to his credit, said he would happily hand back his free bus pass though spoiled any positive this could conjure by adding "I don't really care because I'm so rich". Malik was very much the audience's champion, advocating senior citizens really ought to take some sort of 'hit' during the recession and that the winter fuel allowance and free bus pass for those whose income is 'high' would be a good compromise.

Street-Porter's comments, however, is where my interest picked up. The former Mirror Group employee claimed that her free bus pass is actually keeping bus services running during the middle of the day. She claimed that if she and other wealthy pensioners were to surrender their passes, these bus services would not be viable and could be withdrawn.

While there's certainly evidence that OAPs make up the majority of passengers of many bus services in the trough between both daily peaks, everything hinges on the reimbursement rate paid by the local authorities. There are very few bus operators who don't hark for the pre-2006 days when OAPs paid half-fare and the local authority made up the majority of the outstanding 50%.

I wrote a piece for the Lincolnshire Echo two years ago in which I tried to explain how the free bus pass was actually seeing a reduction in services as a result of the poor reimbursement rates. Understandably, many OAPs will agree with Steeet-Porter's view, but most won't have a clue how the politics behind it causes so many bus services to be unprofitable and withdrawn as a direct consequence.

Only last week, Yorkshire Coastliner has said it is looking to operate non-stop sections (at least 15 miles between two stops) on its extensive cross-country network of services thus forcing OAPs to pay for travel as the free bus pass can only be used on 'local stopping services', defined by having no more than 15 miles between any consecutive bus stops. The Yorkshire Coastliner decision isn't bloody-mindedness, but a response to a decision by North Yorkshire County Council to reduce reimbursement rates by 40%.

NYCC dispute the amount, claiming it is more like 20%, but the figure is still so large that an operator is having to effectively alienate a sizeable proportion of its passenger base to continue making a profit.

One aspect of the politics that Street-Porter won't be aware of is that reimbursement is paid on the average fare for each service, calculated by the operator. One of the longest bus routes in England operates from Peterborough to Lowestoft, via King's Lynn, Norwich and Great Yarmouth. If someone with a free bus pass travels end-to-end, the authority in whose area the journey commences has to pay the bus operator (First Eastern Counties) the same amount as someone travelling one stop. It has been mooted this is around £7.

OAPs - be they affluent or not - have no interest in how the free bus pass scheme is administered. It's down to the government to set-up a scheme that works. Direct payment by the DfT to operators, as happens with the Welsh and Scottish schemes, from their respective assembly/parliament and as happens for BSOG (fuel duty rebate) to all national operators, would be the logical step. Though not so in England.

Local authorities receive cash from the DfT and can set whatever reimbursement level they want. Last year, DfT figures showed the average reimbursement rate (cash) for journeys taken in the shire counties was 96p. If Janet Street-Porter travelled from Lincoln to Grimsby on the InterConnect 3, Stagecoach would receive, on average, £1.92 for a return journey and not a penny more. The adult return fare is over £5. And, of course, this gap in the amount operators receive for accepting the free bus passes compared with the equivalent cash fare is replicated throughout the country.

It would be nice to see Ms Street-Porter directing her vociferous enthusiasm towards the DfT and to champion the reform of the free bus pass to secure its long-term future.

28 April 2013

An Open Invite

One of the niggles I have about travelling by train during the evening is that the ticket barriers are invariably left open, allowing passengers to gain free access to and speedy exit from the platform. I fully comprehend the minimum staffing levels required to man such barriers, especially at larger stations, which is where most are located.

It is possible, for example, to catch an evening First Capital Connect train Peterborough to London King's Cross and not have to show or present a ticket to anyone or anything. More often than not this extends to East Coast trains, too. What signal does this give to people wanting something for nothing?

There are plenty of people who believe they have the god-given right to travel for free if they can get away with it. The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) estimates that there are 110,000 such journeys made every single day on the national network. This is estimated to cost £200,000,000 every year - and those of us who follow the trials and tribulations of life 'on the trains' know all too well what that sort of money can buy.

And then there's me. And you. And every other honest and decent user of the railway who purchases their tickets before they travel; who leaves home/the office that few minutes earlier than usual in case there's a queue at the ticket collecting machines; who takes time to print off and carry with them their 'travel documents'. If witnessing fare evasion makes my blood boil, I'm sure it does yours, too. This extends to the railway openly inviting fare evasion as well.

On Friday the long-suffering Mrs LEYTR was dragged to Stamford, Lincolnshire, in order to make a short railway journey to neighbouring Peterborough along the old LMS route. This is the only stretch of passenger line in Lincolnshire that I've never done. And not a lot of it falls in Lincolnshire, either. Still, boxes needed to be ticked and all that, so there were were on Platform 1 awaiting the 1201 CrossCountry service bound for Stansted Airport. I'd used the self-service ticket machine to purchase two singles, totalling £15.00.

The train (170107) arrived with time to spare and we found a couple of seats within the three-car Turbostar. Upon departure, the guard came to check tickets. We showed ours within our section of the train, as did a few others who had boarded. At the first vestibule two young teens were stood and one refused to show his ticket.

"Nah, mate, you'll have to call the police. I'm not showing you my ticket" one said.

The other blatantly admitted to not having a ticket and neither was willing to purchase one from the guard. I couldn't overhear what the guard said back, but it appeared he just let them off. Part of me wanted to say "Can I have a refund then, since you're letting those two off?" but I didn't know if he was calling British Transport Police to meet the train at Peterborough as it was here that the pair were travelling.

And besides, there are nice, shiny ticket barriers at Peterborough station now so in theory they'd be challenged here and possibly made to pay - especially if the guard had called ahead.

So you can imagine my utter disgust for East Coast - who maintains Peterborough station - when we exited only to find all barriers open and unmanned.

This was in the middle of the day, not in the evening when most day returns have been purchased and train companies care less about revenue loss. It was a very poor show.

But what can be done? The McNulty Report wants fewer staff at stations, in order to save money. This can only make matters worse. Clearly there was perhaps 1 member of staff short at Peterborough on Friday which then forced the gates to be left open. The saving made with 1 member of staff is greater than the amount CrossCountry lost out on but that's just one case.

Ticket barriers should be operational at all times. If there are insufficient staff to man them they should still be working. All you need is one override button to temporarily open them all if gateline staff have been engaged elsewhere and the same button can be pressed to make them operational afterwards.

Apathy is the major problem I suspect. Similar with London bus drivers not caring one jot about passengers flashing their library card when boarding, many on the railway get paid the same regardless, aren't on commission and their employer still gets £x from the government regardless.

15 March 2013

Delaine Running Day - UPDATE

We've been advised by Delaine Buses that a slight change to the vehicle workings has taken place.

Leyland PD3 50 (RCT 3) will now work all three half-cab diagrams (ex Bourne 1030, 1230, 1430 & ex Peterborough 1130, 1330, 1530) and that Leyland PD2 45 (KTL 780) will work duplicates for the other two heritage vehicles between Market Deeping, Church Street and Peterborough, Queensgate (departing Deeping at 1050 then xx50 until 1450 and from Peterborough it will duplicate the 1130 and xx30 workings until 1530).

Although the day is to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Leyland Atlantean 72, the company is mindful that visitors will want to sample all vehicles, with Leyland PD2 45 having seen no use in service since 2008.

01 March 2013

Delaine Buses Running Day

We're a little late in advertising this, even though there's still a month to go, as it's been doing the rounds for a while. That said, as the news reached us a day late to include in the last LEYTR, it is only right and proper that we help promote a special running day in Lincolnshire on Good Friday.

England's oldest independent bus company, Delaine Buses of Bourne, will be running their trio of heritage vehicles in passenger service on 29 March from 0930 to 1630. This is primarily to mark the 40th birthday of their Leyland Atlantean, ACT 540L, which entered service on 1 March 1973. Numbered 72 in the Delaine Buses fleet, the Atlantean (with Northern Counties body) was the highest-capacity double decker in production at the time.

Atlantean 72 is seen here at the Delaine Buses depot last year with another double decker that boasted the highest seating capacity available at the time, Stagecoach East's Megadekka.

A special timetable is in operation on Good Friday, with direct Service 101 journeys the order of the day between Bourne, Market Deeping and Peterborough. Departures are at 0740, 0900 then 00 & 30 until 1700. Return times from Peterborough are at 1000, 1030 then 00 & 30 until 1800. All services call at all stops en route, with Market Deeping being the central timing point 20 mins after leaving each end. End-to-end journey time is 40 minutes.

Atlantean 72 will be working the 0930, 1130, 1330, 1530 from Bourne and 1030, 1230, 1430, 1630 from Peterborough.

Seen in its 39th year during 2012 is Leyland Atlantean 72 attending the Morley's Running Day, based at Whittlsey Market Place. The bus made a number of shuttle services between Whittlsey and Thorney (following a former Morley's route) and a trip to the Emblings/Judds depot at Guyhirn.

The company's remaining heritage fleet are half-cab double deckers. The oldest is 45 (KTL 780), a Willowbrook-bodied Leyland Titan PD2 new to the company in May 1956. Celebrating its half-century in 2010 (and given pride of place on the LEYTR magazine covers of that year) is the remaining vehicle: 50 (RCT 3), a Yeates-bodied Leyland Titan PD3, which entered service in June 1960. Unusual for this bus is that it has been owned, maintained and licensed as a fully PCV from new with the Company. Titan 45 was sold only to be bought back a number of years later, for preservation.

Taken at the BRM Day in Bourne last October (covered in the Nov/Dec 2012 LEYTR) is the Company's oldest vehicle, Titan PD2/Willowbrook 45. New in 1956 the bus is fast approaching its 60th birthday. Photo: Peter Moore.

Titan PD2 45 will be working the 1230 from Bourne and 1330 from Peterborough - a rare outing for this stalwart of yesteryear. The last time it operated in passenger service was on the Company's Leyland Day in 2008. It had been planned to take the bus to the LVVS Rally in Lincoln last November, but heavy rain forced the company to take something newer.

Titan PD3 50 will be working the 1030 & 1430 from Bourne and 1130 & 1530 from Peterborough - both it and sister 45 will have a conductor on board and a working (if fixed!) Almex A90 ticket machine, ensuring all tickets can be issued/accepted as normal.

All other journeys on Service 101 will be operated by the Company's fleet of low-floor double deckers, with the trio of Gemini-bodied Volvo B9TLs likely to be in operation. The newest two (152/3 AD12/62 DBL) are seen here at Showbus last year.

The operation of the heritage fleet on the xx30 departures from Bourne & Peterborough will be the actual service vehicles, not reliefs/duplicates. Traditionally, loadings are low on Good Friday in this part of the country, the Company has said, and it is hoped that the running day will generate greater use of the services. Speaking to the LEYTR, Delaine Buses managing director Anthony Delaine-Smith, said that if a success there is no reason why it couldn't be repeated in the future.

A Day Rover ticket costs £5 adult (18+), £4.50 young person (11-17) and £4 child (5-10). A Group Day Rover costing £10.60 is also available, enabling up to 4 people to travel on the same ticket, with a maximum of 2 adults. A full range of single and day return fares will also be available, as the heritage fleet is operating a normal service. Free English national concessionary bus passes will also be accepted for travel.