Lost Welsh Independent Bus Companies

It was before Christmas 2017 when the idea for this post entered my head after learning about more Welsh bus company collapses. Though I might have had the motivation to write it up then, the topic felt unseasonal so I left it to one side for a while.

There are plenty of reasons why the subject is too sober for what was supposed to be a joyful time of year. In the companies listed below, there seems to be a repeating story of hardship and subsequent collapse. In some cases, business management was not what it should and the Welsh traffic commissioner never takes too kindly to sudden closure of any bus company and there has been too much cause for hearings to take place in Welshpool.

Most of the affected concerns operated rural bus routes under council contracts, an easier revenue earner during the years of Labour government in London but much tougher now in more austere times. Such is the geography of Wales, that many firms prospered once more funding was on offer from the late nineties until the end of the next decade. One bus industry professional commented that he was involved in setting up a business in the nineties because public subsidy was about to increase and the Cheshire bus network was much stronger back then so the same might have been possible for Wales.

That is not how it is now and bus patronage cannot be helped by service cuts either so a vicious circle comes into being. Then, smaller firms suffer and the hilly nature of Wales makes it hard too for large operators with Arriva and Veolia pulling out of mid Wales. It all makes for a troubled network so the presence of the Welsh Government support TrawsCambria network is invaluable because we cannot say that all is well yet.

When you see the list below, it is easy to see how instability can rein so anything that helps has to be good. After all, bus passengers need to sure that services will operate as advertised and the last thing that councils need is repeated re-tendering of services. Hopefully, the decline can be halted and we see a reduced number of failures over time. You only can hope for better.

D & J Jones and Son

In the wake of the collapse of GHA Coaches, this Wrexham based operator took on a lot of extra work before it too collapsed immediately before Christmas 2017. It was said that staffing issues were the cause rather than financial pressures but it left Wrexham Council with the task of replacing many services in order to keep transport services going in the borough.

Express Motors

2018 started with much change in the bus network in northwest Wales (Anglesey, Gwynedd, Conwy) because of this operator’s loss of its licence. The cause was a coach crash in France that revealed discrepancies in vehicle maintenance records. There were two family owned companies on site with similar names, one offering private and the other providing local bus services. Both were closed and a replacement company appears not to have been set up to continue in the bus service business. The result is that all council contracted routes were retendered.

GHA Coaches

GHA Coaches rose very quickly across North and Mid Wales as well as Cheshire and Shropshire. It now looks as if the expansion may have been too rapid for service quality declined and cashflow problems meant that taxes were unpaid and service quality suffered too. In the end, the company was wound up by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). The company’s directors tried starting another company but were disqualified from continuing with such operations by the traffic commissioner, an understandable action given how quickly GHA Coaches had collapsed and the chaos that resulted.

Padarn Bus

Llanberis’ Padarn Bus was another bus company that failed in northwest Wales and there was a fraud investigation mounted after that happened. That happened in 2014 and so comes before others on this list. It was a sign of what was to come.

Silcox Coaches

This Pembrokeshire operator failed for financial reasons not long before GHA Coaches. The business had been sold in order to gain added investment that never materialised. It then was bought back by the family that owned for much of its long history but it never recovered.

Up to usual tricks yet again…

Cheshire East Council have launched yet another consultation to see if they can cut bus services even more. We probably should have had on whether it is appropriate to try to save £1.5m on this in the first place. Things already are close to a situation where nothing runs after 18:00 and I am trying to see if Arriva will give us a better service on route 130 between 16:00 and 19:00.

Again, it is evening and Sunday services that are at the centre of attempted savings though the Little Bus network does not escape either. Trunk routes like services 38 and 130 fall into the scope for cuts with the former potentially losing all of its evening services and the latter its Sunday ones. A number of services face withdrawal like service 200 between Wilmslow and Manchester Airport or service P1 between Middlewood, Poynton and Hazel Grove. Otherwise, there is some pointless renumbering of otherwise unaffected services.

The consultation takes the form of a route by route interrogation that causes some like me to question the need to bother about it when so much is cut already. It certainly is not as user friendly as that run by Derbyshire County Council and that leads to its own share of cynical rebuke. It is one thing to try collecting too much information but that is made worse if it puts off those who depend on more than one service from commenting at all.

Still, there is some cause for optimism with all the consultation fatigue that I am suffering. Local newspapers like the Macclesfield Express and the Wilmslow Guardian have featured the consultation on their front pages with comments from local councillors. One does have to wonder when it all is going to stop but the cuts actually made in the end may step back from the full extent that is described in the proposal document. The consultation itself runs until July 26th so we will learn what happens after that. One has to ask if it all is false economy and we saw the collapse of GHA last year as they fell foul of an ever more challenging operating environment.

A Changeover in the Scottish Borders

Over the weekend, I was in Scotland for a few days and went for a few walks through the hills around Peebles and Broughton. Because, I had based myself in Edinburgh, I was making use of the X62 between there and Peebles and checking on my options before I left home revealed a change that happened last month.

Now that First has been released from the obligations previously imposed on it, it has been retrenching in the Scottish bus market. This has seen it exiting East Lothian with Lothian Buses setting up two subsidiaries to replace the withdrawn services, Lothian Country Buses and East Coast Buses. In the coming weeks, the former is set to be merged with the latter and some service improvements are coming too.

Within the last month, First also exited the Scottish Borders with West Coast Motors taking over their operations. This has resulted in the formation of new company is called Borders Buses and has taken over all routes previously operated in the area by First. For now, timetables and fares are unchanged but Borders Buses can change things as it sees fit once it has settled into its new role. Some buses have been hired in from First until replacements are introduced though there already are some new white vehicles operating under the new fleet name. In addition, some buses from Perryman’s Buses also see service on Borders Buses routes and that is another part of the West Coast Motors group so the Campbeltown based parent company is not new to this part of Scotland.

The result of all the changes is that West Coast Motors has moved its interests from Argyll and Bute, Glasgow and the Scottish Highlands not only into the Borders but also into Northumberland. It has come quite a way from its Argyll heartland so it will be interesting to see how it goes now given that the recently reinstated Borders railway between Tweedbank and Edinburgh is having an impact.

Update on 2017-04-20:
Buses magazine reports that the operations of both Perryman’s Buses and Borders Buses are to be merged with the latter name persisting. So far, there is little sign of that apart from legal lettering on buses showing the same postal address.

Network Rail Strike: Spring Bank Holiday 2015

Update 2015-05-21 15:15: The BBC is reporting that this strike is called off and I saw Arriva Trains Wales and others communicating the same. What follows below this message looks to be irrelevant now though there still could be some variation from the expected timetable where notice has been insufficient and where railway engineering works are planned. Extended Bank Holiday rail travel plans are a possibility now after all.

Any designs that I have for the coming bank holiday weekend needed to be trimmed or culled because of the upcoming 24 hour Network Rail strike by the RMT and TSSA trade unions from 17:00 on Monday into Tuesday. Putting my knowledge to use, here is what the train companies say about their service levels. Essentially, there are some services but some many are not running that the railway is going to be useless while the strike is in progress. There may be some hope that it is called off at the last minute but that is not how it looks and I writing this.

Network Rail has an Industrial Action section on their website that summarises what is happening but it is what the train operators that really is telling. Here is a summary of what they have to say:

Abellio Greater Anglia are operating nothing after midday on Monday while only a few skeleton services are on offer on Tuesday with some disruption possible on Wednesday too. All is on their website so a check there would do no harm.

Arriva Trains Wales have a summary of what limited services they will be operating and there are not that many so the general advice is stay away until all is back to normal. Wednesday will see some disruption in the morning time too.

Caledonian Sleeper were being coy about what is happening with their services when I checked but it might be best to assume that none are operating at all and reschedule things. Nevertheless, things still can change and they have somewhere to add that information online.

CrossCountry only have trains running on small sections of their network with much, including Macclesfield and Manchester, seeing no service at all.

East Midlands Trains services are finishing earlier than usual on the Bank Holiday and hardly any are operating on Tuesday. Most of those are going to and from London St. Pancras. This is a service summary so you can find out more.

First Great Western has a longer list of train services that running than I would have expected. There remains a good deal of disruption too so it is best not to expect anything like a normal service.

Grand Central are operating to a reduced timetable on Monday with no services running on Tuesday.

Hull Trains have a special timetable in operation on Monday while there are no services at all on Tuesday.

London Midland too are running a very restricted service.

Northern Rail have details of what services are running and most are not with both days being affected. For clarity, the closed routes are listed too.

ScotRail only have a small number of commuter services running around Glasgow and Edinburgh. Both days are seeing most of Scotland without a train service of any sort.

Southwest Trains have no services at all on Tuesday and those on Monday will have ceased by late afternoon. More updates may be added on the relevant section of their website.

Transpennine Express have extensive details of the services that they will have running and even Wednesday morning will not be spared some disruption until signalling staff are back at work and trains are back where they needed to be.

Virgin Trains will have no trains running on the West Coast Mainline on either of the two days and even a suspension of the strike will not mean a complete reinstatement of services either. Passengers are being encouraged to travel either on Sunday or Wednesday with restrictions of advanced purchase tickets being eased accordingly. It is not as severe on the East Coast Mainline though there still will be major disruption with ticket bookings suspended for either of the two days.

As you see from the above, travelling by rail hardly is going to be a viable option for around two whole days and that is a pity. Though the last railway strike this that I remember was in July 2006, it is not what the railways really need and it might be time for railwaymen to realise that they too need to sell their industry’s services and that strike don’t do that. Personal motorised travel remains the major competitor though National Express is increasing its coach service provision to capture some of the demand, as will Megabus and Scottish Citylink. Will they cope? Only time will answer that.

Aftermath of Lough Swilly Buses Closure

Following the intervention of the U.K.’s HMRC, the London & Lough Swilly Railway Company is no more after period of financial difficulties. The name sounds like an anachronism in that the company essentially was a bus operator for its last decades and a decent website came about only in the last few years and remains online at the time of writing too.

Here is what the company to say for itself on the front page of its website:

The Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway Company was set up by an act of parliament in 1853 by the then parliament of Great Britain & Ireland. The first track between Derry and Forland Point was completed in 1863 with a further line to Buncrana in 1864. Further extensions were completed with a branch line from Buncrana to Carndonagh and a line from Derry via Tooban Junction to Letterkenny completed in 1883, this was further extended to Burtonport inn 1895.

In 1929 due to financial difficulties the directors decided to close some of the lines and replace them with buses and road freight. The railway finally closed in 1953 when the Buncrana – Derry line ceased. The company presently operates a cross border bus service between Derry and Buncrana, Letterkenny, Moville and to various towns in Inishowen and north Donegal. In addition the Swilly also operate a school bus service in Donegal under contract to C.I.E. The company also operate a Vehicle Testing Centre at its Bonagee garage in Letterkenny for PSV and commercial vehicles. The company presently employ in excess of 90 people.

The company is the oldest surviving railway company set up in the Victorian era that is still trading as a commercial concern.

The Derry Journal has its own piece on the chequered history of the company that closed its doors last month. Its network extended west from Derry across the north of Donegal and neither Bus Éireann or Ulsterbus really strayed that much on to its patch. Even the former contracted out schoolbus services to Lough Swilly on behalf of Éire’s Department of Education & Skills.

Before we get to talking about possible replacements for the Swilly routes that have been lost, here is a list with links to the old timetables too:

Buncrana – Derry
Carndonagh – Buncrana
Carndonagh – Derry
Derry – Culmore
Greencastle – Derry
Gweedore – Letterkenny
Kerrykeel – Letterkenny
Letterkenny – Derry
Muff – Derry

As of the moment of writing, most of these have yet to be replaced if my information is correct.  Bus Éireann has sorted out all the school services that Swilly used to operate so those will remain. They also are revised their Letterkenny to Derry service to mitigate the loss of Swilly’s journeys. The route numbers are 64 and 480, and the timetables combine to give reasonably comprehensive coverage of the day.

Ulsterbus has taken over the Muff to Derry service and it is numbered FY16. The service frequency looks good though there is a late start of 12:00 from Derry on Saturdays. It also has been reported that McGonagle’s of Buncrana have taken over the service between there and Derry and that bus passes are invalid on it due to a current lack of reimbursement from the authorities. That company appear not to have a website so I have yet to see a timetable for the new service.

Other than the above, there has been little sign of other routes being reactivated though Highland Radio had a story about Boyce Travel expressing an interest without much in the way of a response. Quite what happens next is unknown so it will be a case of waiting and watching. It would be pity if all the routes were lost because of a company failure.