Two losses

In the last few days, two types of services have been coming to an end. First up is the well-regarded Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone Railway  company which stopped running services between Wrexham and London on Friday. While Virgin will continue to run one service each way from Wrexham to London and back, most will find themselves going via Chester or some other route. Sadly, I never got to try WSMR out for size so I don’t know what I’ve missed. Nevertheless, I do know what it’s like to be travelling on the last services of something that were a good thing.

My reason for saying that is that DFDS Norfolkline’s last sailing from Birkenhead to Dublin is departing in just under an hour (checking in probably has closed in by now). A day trip to Dublin and Howth had me traveling on the last sailing from Dublin to Birkenhead last night and it was a forlorn event. You could hear the captain’s voice breaking as he announced the end of something that had been going since 1995. Indeed, other members of the crew were welling up at times too. After all, this is something that could be missed. P&O do operate a ferry from Liverpool to Dublin and back but they don’t accept foot passengers like the others did. The result is that foot passengers will be losing a seven hour sailing that allowed the chance for some more sleep when travelling between Merseyside and the Irish Republic. Everyone will need to go to Holyhead or some other port now.

The service seemed busy enough on the seven hour sailing that I undertook but I don’t know how things were going during the week or on daytime sailings and the Irish economy isn’t going very well at the moment while the British one is having its troubles too; the Holyhead-Dublin sailing that I used in the middle of the day wasn’t that busy so that might be a hint. Then, there was the takeover of Norfolkline by DFDS so that might result in a change of priorities too. Still, the Birkenhead-Belfast operation continues though the days of getting evening meals and breakfast on the price of the sailing are gone after the end of the month. Fares will cost more by the looks of things and you’ll need to pay for any food as well. Was it impossible to keep the Dublin route going on this basis?

Good things sadly can come to an end and I suppose the WSMR’s demise is but another example that sounds very similar to the sea travel tail that I have related here. My only wish is that everything works out OK for the staff caught up in both of these less than positive changes. There’s something about both that makes them sound like the ends of eras.

Update 2011-01-31: There seems to be swathe of route discontinuations in train with BMI pulling its Glasgow-London service and Air Southwest doing the same with its Newquay-Gatwick and Plymouth-Gatwick runs. Interestingly, there is no mention of the news on the former’s website while it is there on the latter’s. In truth, DFDS wasn’t so communicative about the Dublin-Birkenhead route either.

A Double-edged Sword?

One thing that we’re never told about those magical white Christmases that we’re often sold is that there’s a darker side to them too. Just ask anyone trying to fly before Christmas this year and they may have a thing to say about the weather that we saw.

What visited Heathrow and Gatwick on the last Saturday before Christmas Day caused enough disruption but it was the repeated showerings of snow that caused havoc at Dublin’s airport. All that was needed was a single hefty shower and runaways were shut for several hours. The result was many panicky travellers with some booking ferry crossings as a backup plan.

Rail travel became tricky as points suffered in the cold weather with many needing defrosting. It didn’t matter whether it was Euston station or Heuston station in Dublin because delays and cancellations were made more likely; London saw more cancellations than Dublin, it has to be said. Then, London Midland train passengers were to discover how it felt to be crammed into a smaller than usual train because two couldn’t be joined together due to frozen couplers. Special timetables with lower service frequencies saw introduction in Wales, Merseyside and Scotland because of the conditions.

Buses in the south of England saw enough disruption to set Twitter alight with a multitude of status updates. That wasn’t all because the same comments applied to Lancashire, Yorkshire, Northumberland and Wales. Seeing the flurries of updates was enough to remind me of the action of snow blizzards.

All of the above information provision was heartening to see but not everyone was as good at keeping passengers up to date. For instance, I spent several hours in a plane, diverted from Dublin, sat on the tarmac in Shannon and the lack of speed in making anything happen was enough to try your patience. Decisiveness and responsiveness weren’t characteristics of the experience and it didn’t help that the I had to return to a snowy Dublin when my final destination wouldn’t have been far from Shannon anyway; it was nearer than Dublin anyway. If buses and trains did this type of thing, you could foresee uproar…

All in all, the whole experience makes me appreciate the service offered by bus and train operators all the more and neither Dublin Bus or Irish Rail left me down on the day in question anyway. My observations and experiences of what the snow did this year have me wondered why I have been pondering outings to savour the snowy hills of Scotland and Wales during a spell of cold weather. It’s no wonder that I have been sticking to enjoying what’s close at hand when snow visits.

This is our second really cold winter in a row and my only hope is that lessons are being learnt. One climate scientist has suggested we are in a run of a few of these so we all needed to be doing some learning, myself included. With regards to dreams of white Christmases, we need to live in the real world and that’s even when somewhat surreal weather comes our way like it has done this year. Let’s hope that everyone stays safe and that the stranded get to their intended destinations as soon as possible.

Not so bad around here

With all the noise that there is about the closures of Heathrow and Gatwick due to the heavy snow that hit the south over the weekend, it is worth remembering that other parts are affected as well and that more snow hit the southwest and Wales today. For instance, Wales seems to be seeing disruption to its train services and MerseyRail is running a Sunday service tomorrow to ensure resilience (how’s that going to work with folk going to work and about their business?).

There may have been snow in the Manchester, Stockport and Macclesfield areas on Friday night but local buses and trains seem to be running well. The way in which we have been feeling the effects of what happened on Saturday are in the form of train cancellations and delays with Virgin faring worse than CrossCountry from what I could see. Macclesfield town bus services are being operated as are those to Crewe and Manchester. We may have to take care where we walk but that’s the extent of what the cold weather has done to us in the town.

A recent trip to Glossop confirms the same sort of conditions. Most buses seem to be running there too and trains seem not to be missing a beat. Good accumulations are there to be seen in the surrounding hills but any roads that I saw were clearer than the pavements by their side. Apart from greasy soft snow, the only real ice was to be found on a bridleway and that needed footwear with spikes for it to be crossed. Otherwise, busier routes could be negotiated though some needed care in order to do so.

Ireland hasn’t escaped the snow either with a heavy fall this evening having closed Dublin Airport to arrivals and departures until at least 23:00.The general Dublin area seems to have had quite a dump of the white stuff too, much as the southwest of the country did over the weekend. That has made road conditions tricky in usually mild parts such as the county of Limerick; the town of Newcastlewest is badly affected by ice due to the very low temperatures.

All in all, I could see folk in Britain and Ireland welcoming a wet Christmas if it took away the snow and ice that we currently have. With all the excitement of white Christmases in previous years, who’d have seen that coming about? After all, I suppose that it’s harder to enjoy a visual feast if you feel that your normal way of life is disrupted.

Disturbance

The current round of snow is having quite an effect on the transport network in some places. Thankfully, Macclesfield doesn’t seem to be the worst hit though there must be a considerable snow covering on the hills not far from the town and Buxton cannot escape either. The A537/A54 are closed to traffic so things cannot be good up on the heights. If it’s like what we got at the start of the year, they’ll need snowblowers to clear roads.

Bowers are unable to offer the full service that they usually do and the 27 Macclesfield-Knutsford route was only operated for part of the afternoon and it looked as if the same applied to the 19 Macclesfield-Whirley-Prestbury service. They are based in Chapel-en-le-Frith so that cannot help them. It’s one thing to struggle to get buses out from a depot but it’s another if drivers cannot get there in the first place.

From the bus tracker, Arriva seems to be able to keep the 130 Macclesfield-Manchester service going though there are delays and thoughts of them persuaded me to work from home today. A look at their latest update conveys to me the impression that we are getting off more lightly than some other places. They have created a summary in PDF so as to stop people hammering the website like they did at the start of the year.

One look at an update for the north of England confirms that a number of places cannot be served by rail, even, and Northern Rail has details on its website too. Sheffield is but one badly hit area and a work colleague of mine has a foot of snow covering his garden! No wonder First cannot run buses around the city. Northumberland and parts of east Yorkshire are taking the brunt of the weather and the disruption by the appearances of things. All in all, it seems that the weather is getting the better of the railways in places.

Ireland may have a maritime climate but it too is feeling the effects of the cold spell. Though most trains are running (only Docklands station in Dublin is not getting a service this evening), if subject to delays, the Irish Rail website is getting hammered. That may be due in part to the problems that Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann are having. The former’s services stopped around 20:00 this evening and the latter has been struggling to run services up and down the east coast of the country, to point that 19:30 was the end of operations for the day on many of them. The severe weather pages of the Irish Department of Transport are another calling point for general information, particularly about road conditions and any gritting.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given its reputation, Scotland has got a right blast of the arctic conditions with even Edinburgh’s Lothian Buses being unable to offer a full service. The mixture of hilly terrain and hefty snowfalls must be at the heart of the problem but one only can imagine how much more challenging it is in the Highlands though train running problems are happening throughout Scotland.

Though numerous, what I have collected here is only a sample of what is happening out there. Maybe, it is too hard to keep on top of it all when you have a day job in another profession but I’ll see if I can share what I can on here.

Some things still go ahead…

It seems that rail engineering projects aren’t being stymied by the downturn that seems to be the case in Éire as much as it is in other places. Today saw the announcement of further efforts towards putting the DART Underground in place for Dublin. It should be remembered that the original above ground DART was constructed in the middle of another recession in the early 1980’s so it looks as if history is set to repeat itself. Naturally anyone living above where the tunnels are to be going will be concerned but tunnel construction has happened in Ireland (and Dublin too) before without any above ground consequences so that should give a little reassurance. That there are forward thinking projects like this in progress in a country in public sector borrowing reduction should be some cause for optimism for the future, especially when there’s always the temptation to scale back these very things in the short-term.

The U.K. still retains a more expansionary approach with all of the excitement surrounding HS2. However, that will won’t be in place for a good while so enhancing what we already have might be a better idea. Thankfully, Manchester’s rail congestion is coming to notice and there’s London’s Crossrail and other such schemes in the offing too. With all of this and what is happening in the Middle East (Dubai) and with high-speed rail in the U.S.A., you have to say that railways are seeing something of a renaissance at the moment. Hindsight nearly always is 20-20 vision but it now very much appears that a transport strategy based around private motorised transport only was going to get us so far and we now have the congestion to prove it. Add the threat of global warming (has it been overplayed even if it’s real?) and the need to cut down on carbon footprints and it seems that we live in an interesting age when the benefits of public transport are there for all to see. Let’s hope that it stays that way.