Arriva seeing some success in Northumberland

With the environment within which bus services are being provided at the moment, success can feel very far away with local councils like North Yorkshire and Cornwall pondering cuts to their funding. Also, Arriva is not a company that you would associated very closely to the term either and that probably follows from the retrenchment that I have seen in Cheshire over the last decade.

Nevertheless, they are claiming that changes implemented to their services in Northumberland during September 2012 have seen good results. Also, there would seem to be conversations going on between them and passengers too and there never is a bad thing. The result is a set of changes that came into place within the last few weeks and today.

Of particular interest to me is the X15 between Newcastle, Alnwick and Berwick-upon-Tweed since it follows part of the Northumberland coastline that I have enjoyed exploring. There is only change to its timetable and it is a positive one: the 19:43 Monday to Friday departure from Newcastle is getting extended as far as Alnwick, bucking a certain trend that sees the decline of evening bus services in rural areas.

Service 35 between Morpeth, North Seaton and Newbiggin has enjoyed success and is seeing accompaniment by the 35A that terminates in Woodhorn instead of Newbiggin. Between the two of these, the Monday to Saturday daytime service frequency will become four buses per hour (one every fifteen minutes) between Morpeth and North Seaton; it is hourly at other times, including all day on Sundays. Also, double decker buses are set to be introduced too and that’s a sure sign of good patronage even if they are refurbished and not new acquisitions.

Related services 30/30A (North Seaton to Ashington to Linton) and 34 (Ashington to Bedlington) see changes too. The former is now an hourly off-peak Monday to Saturday service with its last service in the early afternoon making it more of a shopping service for those needing to such trips by bus. The latter gets enhanced to give four journeys each way a day on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday to Saturday with Wednesday seeing three each way. Again, like the 30/30A, the 34 has all the appearance of a service for shopping trips with its early afternoon stopping point. Extensions to Blyth have been withdrawn though so careful use of onward connections from Bedlington.

Travelsure‘s Amble town service 471 is set to be complemented by Arriva journeys early and late in the day from Monday to Friday. This means two journeys before 09:00 and one after 18:10, giving coverage for a larger part of the day.

The last set of routes face relatively minor changes and these are the X20 (Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Ashington to Amble), X21 (Newcastle to Newbiggin) and X22 (Newcastle to Ashington). With the X20, the first journey of the day from Newcastle is set  to run 15 minutes earlier for better timekeeping. The 20 now sees four journeys each going around by Hadston Square that it didn’t before. These were added at the request of residents on a six month trial basis and I hope it goes well for them. Service X21 is seeing minor changes such as a change of terminus in Newbiggin for evening and Sunday journeys. One journey is withdrawn for the X22 and another retimed. The Monday to Friday 07;13 from Bedlington to Ashington is the casualty because of low usage and the Monday to Friday 07:53 from Newcastle becomes the 07:48 instead.

Thankfully, there are not many service reductions in all of this and that is good news in itself. That there are enhancements is even better and is the sort of development of which more is needed these days. Hopefully, Arriva can build on its recent good fortune and make bus usage better for everyone.

Update 2014-08-11: Service 30 is operated by Phoenix Taxi, Bus and Coach now and is hourly from mid morning to early afternoon and those extra service 471 journeys around Amble appear to have been withdrawn too.

Recent changes to bus services in Northumberland

Northumberland’s bus service have seen big changes within the last few months so I have decided to highlight them here. Unfortunately, it only was reshaping this website in recent weeks that alerted me to what has happened. Ideally, I’d like to share the information before any changes have taken place so it’s a case of better late than never…

The main recipients of the upheaval have been users of longer distance bus services through the county. The ones that are no more are as follows:

  • 501 Newcastle to Berwick-upon-Tweed via the coast
  • 505 Newcastle to Berwick-upon-Tweed via A1
  • 518 Newcastle to Alnwick

The first two of these ran via the A1 to Alnwick before taking their different routes north from there while the latter ran by the coast to take in places such as Amble, Warkworth and Alnmouth. Now, they have been replaced by two services:

The first of these essentially is a renumbering of the old 505 where the second is an amalgamation of the 518 and the 501. That makes the latter a very slow service since it takes four hours to get the length of its route. It is an hourly service with not every service extending north of Alnwick and that part of the route hasn’t lost its daily hourly service. The X15 takes less time to do its route but it still in no quick service since the train does the same distance in around 45 minutes and it takes more than double that (nearly two and a half hours in fact). Sunday frequency now is two hourly and it doesn’t extend beyond Alnwick like it does on other days of the week when it’s the extensions north of Alnwick virtually are two hourly on a service that is hourly on the southern section.

There is one other change that arrived later than the others, coming on the very first day of this month as opposed to the middle of the previous one, September 16th as it happened. It now looks as if the creation of the X18 partially removed the need for the former 410 Alnwick to Bamburgh via Beadnell and 411 Beadnell to Berwick-upon-Tweed via Bamburgh services because those services finished at the end of September. What began running on October 1st was the 418, a new service that operates Monday to Saturday between Alnwick to Belford service that goes via Beadnell and Bamburgh. The timetable shows a service that has two journeys going the full length of its route on all its days of operation and an extra Belford to Craster return journey from Monday to Friday. Looking at how it compares to the X18, I am left wondering how it got retained but that I suppose that argument applied to the former 401 and 411 services too. Local needs are important so who am I to question what has been retained. So long as folk know what’s there for them, that’s the most important thing.

With all this upheaval, one has to wonder what advantage comes from it. There is one though: connections to places like Bamburgh and Craster from Alnmouth train station have become more frequent although they still aren’t perfect. You still have to cross reference train and bus times to get them to work or enlist the services of Traveline. Otherwise, route changes like the ones that have been implemented do need good communication and I hope that has happened given that the telling of folk about bus services is far from ideal at the best of times. Something tells me that the changes have needed time to bed in and I hope that things are settling down now and with no loss in ridership too.

Deserted by rail?

There was a time when the Scottish Borders had railways running through the area but they now are no more though a restoration of the line between Edinburgh and Galashiels/Tweedbank is in the offing. That will be a partial help though it doesn’t really work for those coming up from the south like myself. It makes little sense to go north to come south again unless you have a reason to go north in the first place; basing yourself in Edinburgh and fanning out from there would be one.

What has brought this realisation my way was a trip to the area last weekend. Travel was by train as far as Carlisle followed by a lengthy ride on the X95 bus service from Carlisle to Edinburgh operated by First Scotland East. Those two hours did allow some gaping at the surrounding countryside, wonderment at the continued presence of single track bridges under permanent traffic light control on the A7 between Carlisle and Edinburgh along with looking out the windows at towns like Langholm, Hawick and Selkirk. Selkirk was where I stopped for a walk to Galashiels and Melrose via the Three Brethren and the South Upland Way but the return trip started from Galashiels after an overnight stay in Melrose and some exploration of the place.

Because of having different stopping and starting points at the Scottish ends of my cross border journeys, I went with two single journey tickets only to find that they were the same price of £6, not too bad considering the distance travelled. However, noticing that a return from Galashiels to Melrose was valid for a month, I’d be tempted to go with that the next time. Day tickets were not advertised on First buses so I stuck with paying single and return fares. Since returning home, I have done some investigation on their website and the cheapest one would have been £5 and it can go up to £9 depending on how many zones through which you need to pass. There’s the multi-operator One-Ticket too but that only makes sense if you are staying for a week or more. Maybe, playing safe like I did wasn’t so insensible and I didn’t imagine making as much use of buses as I did anyway.

All of the buses on which I travelled has Wright Solar style bodywork and felt fresh and reasonably well presented too. Apart from the X95, I also used services 9A (Melrose-Galashiels), 60 (Berwick-upon-Tweed to Galashiels) and 62 (Edinburgh-Melrose). Even the older buses that I saw working services or parking around Galashiels bus station didn’t look too shabby, whatever it is like to ride in them. It is all a far cry from the Alexander Y-Type bodied Leyland Tigers and such like with their high-floored bodies of which First had many in the late nineties or the Volvo Ailsa double-deckers that they started to phase out of operation around the same time.

In spite of any impression given so far, First isn’t the only operator with Munros of Jedburgh and Perryman’s Buses of Berwick-upon-Tweed running services too. The former fans out from its base in Jedburgh across the Borders, north to Edinburgh and south to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Once upon a time, I think that it ran the 67 between Berwick-upon-Tweed, Kelso and Galashiels but that is now in the hands of Perryman’s along with the 253 to Edinburgh whose route hugs the coastline.

The last time that I visited the area around Galashiels, I came over from the east on the 67 after staying a night in Berwick-upon-Tweed. As if to highlight the northeasterly tilt of the Scotland-England border, Berwick is nearly to the north of Galashiels or Gala as it is known to the locals. Now that I think of it, I am not sure why I went up the East Coast Mainline unless there were engineering works ongoing on its West Coast counterpart; not only did it add distance to my journey but it added to the cost of it too. It’s an approach that I wouldn’t take for a walking trip now though it does highlight another lost railway link that lives on in the form of First Scotland East bus service 60, the one that I took in order to ensure a return train trip. Again, there were two hour bus journeys involved so you have to see what this says about the size of the area governed by the Scottish Borders Council, not the most helpful of organisations when it comes to public transport information provision if my poking around its website is a fair reflection of their efforts. Learning from their counterpart in Dumfries and Galloway wouldn’t a bad start.

Given the area’s size and what it has to offer visitors from beyond its boundaries, it is pity that its railways were removed to make it so dependent on long distance bus services. If they still existed, getting a bike to the Scottish Borders for some cycling along its quiet roads and lanes would be so much easier. As things stand, it might be best to factor in a cycle from somewhere like Berwick-upon-Tweed where a more friendly road system and less taxing gradients are in its favour. Taking a folding bike would one workaround though they are not the cheapest of options and I have little experience of using them. Still, I am tempted by the idea and it would allow me to use a train/bus combination to get into an area that is both off the beaten track and worth exploring by bike. That’s not to stay that doing it on foot is a limitation but a little variety never hurt, did it?