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 This has seen it exiting East Lothian with Lothian Buses setting up two subsidiaries to replace the withdrawn services, Lothian Country Buses and East Coast Buses.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.

Dramatic Changes Planned for Rail Travel in the North of England

The new Northern and Transpennine Express franchises have been awarded and the government is celebrating the changes that are promised by the successful bidders whose terms begin next April. For Northern, it will be Arriva and First will be continuing its involvement with Transpennine Express without its current partner Keolis.

So much is planned that you have to ask if all of it will come to pass even if it fits in well with the government’s Northern Powerhouse ideal. The list of improvements is so long that consulting what the government has published for Northern and Transpennine Express is worthwhile. Initially, I was going to confine myself to aspects that piqued my interest but I went beyond this to be more comprehensive. Still, there is so much to come that the linked sources are worth surveying too.

The remit of the Transpennine Express has been tweaked a bit with their routes to Blackpool, Barrow-in-Furness and Windermere passing to Northern. That leaves their Anglo-Scottish services as their sole involvement on the West Coast Mainline and some new journeys are to serve Liverpool so this is no longer solely based at Manchester Airport as its southern terminus. The southern route via Sheffield to Cleethorpes is to get extra capacity and more frequent services. The same is to come to the northern route too with an hourly service to Edinburgh via Morpeth. Train refurbishment is on the agenda and we are suppose to see new five car 125 mph trains on the northwestern and northern corridors too.

The new Northern franchise is where the improvements really mount up and it was supposed to be a no growth franchise when it was let in 2004. That is not something to be repeated so there are a lot of changes planned and I will step through a lot of these. In summary, there are more services, updated and new trains as well as newly staffed stations. There is a lot to cover.

Firstly, more Sunday journeys are to be offered. Of particular interest to me is the upgrade of  Stoke-on-Trent to Manchester route (it goes via Macclesfield) to an hourly service instead of the current three to four trains per day. Others mooted for an hourly service include the mid-Cheshire line between Manchester and Chester that goes via Knutsford and Northwich, Bishop Auckland to Darlington, Hull to Scarborough, Hull to York, Hull to Sheffield, Scarborough to York, Leeds to Bridlington, Bradford to Skipton, Bradford to Ilkley, Leeds to Doncaster, Leeds to Sheffield, Sheffield to Huddersfield, Lincoln to Sheffield, Knottingley and Pontefract to Leeds, Chester to Manchester and Leeds via Warrington and Colne to Preston. Some lines are going to see two trains per hour on Sundays with that from Buxton to Manchester being one of these. Others include Leeds to Harrogate and Knaresborough, Bradford to Manchester and Wigan to Manchester via Atherton. If this all comes to pass, it will a major increase in Sunday service level and that only can be good.

Weekday services are also set to increase with two trains an hour between Macclesfield and Manchester, Buxton to Manchester, Middlesbrough to Newcastle,  Newcastle to Carlisle, Knottingley and Pontefract to Leeds, Greenbank to Manchester and Blackburn to Manchester. There are myriad of other improvements too with more evening services on some lines and some Leeds to York via Harrogate getting four trains per hour. All this is going to boost capacity and the sooner that comes, the better.

New trains are to come too (281 new carriages in total) and the dreaded Pacers are to be withdrawn by 2019 while the remainder of the fleet is to be refurbished. Some of the new trains will be electric so existing electric ones like those on the Hadfield to Manchester, Skipton and Ilkley to Leeds and Doncaster to Leeds will be replaced to add capacity beyond what is there now. This comes alongside increased staffing of stations with 45 unstaffed stations to get staff and another 54 to have extended opening hours. Stations are to be improved too.

Northern also is to operate a network of semi-fast services with new and reconditioned (class 158) trains. The routes are: Middlesbrough to Newcastle, Newcastle to Carlisle, Hull to Sheffield, Leeds to Nottingham, Lincoln to Sheffield, Bradford to Manchester Airport and Liverpool, Chester to Leeds, Blackpool to York, Blackpool to Manchester, Barrow-in-Furness to Manchester Airport and Windermere to Manchester Airport. Some of these replace existing Transpennine Express routes and that may explain how the brand has been created. All in all, this will be quite a network once it is in place though it is disappointing to see Leeds to Carlisle and Leeds to Lancaster omitted, even if these too see their own modest improvements.

New routes are to be undertaken by Northern that are not part of what they have taken on from Transpennine Express or Northern Connect so it is worth highlighting them. These are Leeds to Bridlington and Scarborough to York. Currently, Transpennine Express are the only operator on these lines so the addition of Northern will compliment those journeys to increase the service frequency.

One is left wondering how all these new trains and extra services are to be funded. After all, Transpennine Express has to pay a premium for their franchise and Northern needs to operate with a reduced subsidy. One would like the reality to match the intent without extra restrictions on off-peak ticketing beyond what we have now. If that could be managed, the overhaul would be both welcome and long overdue.

Christmas 2015 and New Year 2016 Alterations to Public Transport Services

It is coming a bit late this year but here is my Yuletide and New Year summary of public transport services for 2015/6. Items will get added as I find them so it is worth returning here time and again throughout the festive season.

While some operators have left their Christmas and New Year service pages with the same addresses as last year, most leave them as fleeting seasonal items. The exceptions include High Peak Buses, Arriva Trains Wales and London Midland and there is something to be said for that. Otherwise, I am gathering together what has come my way so you can go on yours. Some like Arriva may have a hub for their bus services where you can start your search for information on their Christmas and New Year services but most are regional and is how I have arranged things here.

Wales

Traveline Cymru again have their service summary posted online. Information for most major bus companies is included and there are plenty of links included if you need to find out more. Edwards’ service changes are below and Cardiff Bus’s Park and Ride service changes are online as are those affecting Arriva bus services, First buses in south & west Wales and anything operated by GHA Coaches.

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Merseyside

Merseytravel have their usual service round-up for the time of year and there are some free buses running on Christmas day too. Services finish early on both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve while New Year’s Day sees only limited services.

Greater Manchester

Services see limitations in Manchester too so TfGM have published a useful summary guide. Bus services are limited on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day while train services pay less heed to the start of 2016 than Christmas because it is seen as an opportunity for engineering works. As you might expect, Stagecoach Manchester have a special timetable in operation from 2015-12-21 to 2016-01-01 inclusive while both Arriva and First have their service changes too. All is back to normal from the second day of 2016.

Yorkshire

Here, First have listed what is happening with their bus services by area: Bradford, Huddersfield, Halifax & Calder Valley, Leeds, Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster and York. Travel South Yorkshire and Metro in West Yorkshire are other good places to look since they are transport authorities and cover more than one mode of transport.

Northeast England

In the English northeast, Nexus, Go Northeast, Arriva and Stagecoach have information on what you can expect of public transport over the festive period. Of course, Nexus is the local transport authority so everything you need to know about journeys on local trains, buses and ferries should be there.

English Midlands

In the English Midlands, Arriva and D&G Bus have announced what is happening with their bus services. National Express West Midlands have done the same and Network West Midlands have more details for their region so other bus companies and modes of transport are covered. First operate buses in a number of areas and they have split things up more: Leicester, Staffordshire & North Staffordshire and Worcestershire.

Southern England

Oxford Bus Company still have some services running on both Christmas Day and New Year’s but these run to Heathrow and Gatwick airports so services otherwise are limited. Keeping with the airport theme, Stansted Citylink is operating throughout the season with only Christmas Day seeing no services at all. Both Arriva and Yellow Buses too have their seasonal service levels published for customers to check and First have done the same for their BerkshireBristol, Bath & the West, Cornwall, Essex, Norfolk & Suffolk, Solent, Somerset, Southampton and Wessex operations.

Scotland

In Scotland, Lothian Buses have a Christmas & New Year timetable. First have posted their details for Aberdeen, Greater Glasgow and Southeast & Central Scotland so those are worth a look if you live in their areas. Scottish Citylink have a seasonal service summary to be surveyed by those travelling further afield on their services.

Ireland

Irish Citylink is keeping things like last year with only Christmas Day seeing no service at all. Bus Eireann, Dublin Bus , Northern Ireland Railways and Irish Rail all have their service summaries published online. There are some extra services in the run up to Christmas and for New Year’s Eve too so it is not all about service level reductions.

Train Services across England and Beyond

Since there is a lot of engineering work planned, National Rail have a portal showing the effect these will have on services. For instance, anyone travelling to Heathrow, Gatwick, Scunthorpe, Cleethorpes and Barton-on-Humber will need to take note. With regard to three of these, Transpennine Express also have details of the impact of upgrade work to the Greater Lincolnshire Railway. Likewise, East Midlands Trains has a summary showing the effects that these are having on their services. Abellio Greater Anglia have their own service changes for much the same reasons.

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Northern Rail also have a service summary and have been posting images like the above to reinforce the messages. Anyone flying into the likes of Manchester Airport will need to use taxis for onward travel unless they have someone picking them up.

Another innovation appears on the CrossCountry service summary. In addition to the usual service summary, there also is a seat availability chart and Sunday 27/12 already looks busy at the time of writing.

August Bank Holiday 2015 services in England and Wales

The Summer Bank Holiday falls on the last weekend in August for England, Wales and Northern Ireland while it falls on the first weekend in August for Scotland and Éire. This listing of alterations to public transport services is for the former since the latter has passed a few weeks back. My mind was elsewhere then due to an elongated weekend spent in Iceland.

Cardiff Bus

Apart from road closures causing a diversion for the baycar service, it will be a Sunday service for the Welsh capital city’s main operator and industrial action sadly is set to cause disruption during next Wednesday with a special timetable in operation. It is first of several such stoppages that are planned during September and October so this dispute hopefully will get sorted sooner rather than later.

Cheshire East

Most bus services observe a Sunday timetable and some such as service 130 between Macclesfield and Manchester move over to a new timetable. That gets it useful departures from Macclesfield at 08:00 and 08:55 when the first journey used to be at 10:00. One wonders why they did not introduce this earlier in the year but that is how it is.

First Cymru

Sunday service around Swansea and areas of West Wales served by First too.

First Potteries

This again mainly is a Sunday service with a two hourly frequency on service 23 to Stone with service X32 not operating from Newcastle.

First Great Western

Industrial action is going to cause disruption so it is best to check train running times before you travel. Trains operated by other companies are going to be busier so that needs to be borne in mind.

Greater Manchester

The Manchester Pride Festival Parade is a cause of some bus service diversions during Saturday and there are others continuing over the whole weekend. Stagecoach has information on their affected services. The event affects not only buses for all modes of transport share the load.

Otherwise, a bike show in St. Petersgate in Stockport is affecting other Stagecoach bus services. There is ongoing railway engineering too and that means that some trains terminate in Manchester Victoria on Sunday and Monday instead of Manchester Piccadilly as usual. Metrolink trams return to St. Peter’s Square even if they do not stop there for a few months yet.

Merseyside

Bus services run to a Sunday timetable with journeys commencing around 08:00.

Metrobus

It is a Sunday service too for Metrobus services around Surrey, Kent, East & West Sussex.

Newport Buses

Another Welsh operator observing a Sunday timetable, exclusively this time around.

Sanders Coaches

Also operating a Sunday timetable for their bus services around Norfolk.

South Yorkshire

It is mainly a Sunday timetable for bus services with Unity Coaches service 127 and Stagecoach Nightbus services not operating at all. Trams are also are observing a Sunday service apart from disruption due to engineering works. Trains are running to a normal Monday timetable, again subject to engineering works.

Tyneside and Wearside

The Metro light rail system will be working to a Saturday timetable and. most GoNorthEast buses are running to their Sunday timetables.

West Midlands

Buses and trams are running as per their Sunday timetables. Planned engineering work is set to disrupt trains that normally travel via Stafford or Stone.

West Yorkshire

Wets Yorkshire Metro have a full summary of any differences to services over the Bank Holiday weekend. Leeds Festival is on until Sunday so that has its impact. Otherwise, most bus services observe a Sunday timetables on the Bank Holiday itself. Other bus services in operation include those making up the DalesBus network along with service 10 between Leeds and Temple Newsam, service 812 between Haworth and Stanbury, service 906 between Hardcastle Crags, Hebden Bridge and Widdop and service 951 between Huddersfield and Glossop. The extra services also run on Sunday and, of these, services 10, 906 and 951 also run on Saturday. The Elland Road park and Ride service is not working on Sunday or Monday though. Engineering work also takes its toll on train service so it is worth checking before you travel.

Yorkshire Coastliner

Again, Sunday timetables are in operation with all services in and out of Leeds are diverted via Scholes and Aberford until 16:00 and Seacroft village will not be served until then either.

Yourbus

It is a Sunday service for these too.

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.