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 This has seen it exiting East Lothian with Lothian Buses setting up two subsidiaries to replace the withdrawn services, Lothian Country Buses and East Coast Buses.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

Train Companies on JourneyCheck

Today has turned out to be a disruptive day to be travelling. Flooding has been the main problem and tomorrow is said to bring its share of problems too. With that in mind, I decided to see if I could find which train companies used JourneyCheck as a place to look for live travel information. The list is below, with links to the actual JourneyCheck websites, and you’ll see that not every train company has one.

The websites of course are only good as the information that’s entered into them. Regarding the Northern Rail one, I have seen complaints about the train formation information (number of carriages, mainly) not being as good as it could be. Otherwise, they could have their use on days like today when you need more information than can be provided by a Twitter feed. If you use an RSS feed reader such as Google Reader, then they could be even more useful again. After all, with engineering works and station problems listed along with train running information, these look like good places to be looking while on the move.

A crowded railway on a crowded island

The prospect of a double bank holiday weekend was enough to set me thinking about going away somewhere. After pondering some options, I decided on a few days around Pitlochry. That meant that I enjoyed some dry and occasionally sunny weather why other parts of Britain and Ireland were getting a soaking.

The price of that enjoyment was getting there and away. Because Pitlochry is in the heart of Scotland, I settled on a return rail journey for the sum of £107.60. The journey time was set to be around seven hours but that wasn’t something that I minded and a journey that was quiet and relaxing would have suited me to the ground.

On the way there, travelling was more frenetic than might be desirable. The cause was a fatality on the West Coast Mainline near Leyland. If I had gone with my initial route that involved changes at Kidsgrove, Crewe and Edinburgh, I would have been stranded on a stationary train to the south of the incident and perhaps avoided a little of the saga that unfolded.

As it happened, I took a later train to Manchester (that was a busy CrossCountry service but everyone had their own seat) where I got on the heaving 09:16 Transpennine Express service to Glasgow. That got so uncomfortably busy that I alighted in Preston to catch another train. The train itself was formed of six carriages but there were for Glasgow and three were for Blackpool. It would have been better if all six were bound for Scotland and it highlights the foolishness of handing Manchester-Scotland services over to Transpennine Express in the first place. Electrification of the Manchester-Leyland line may gain us four carriage trains but that is insufficient on this route, at least at peak times like the one at which I was travelling.

If I could have remained on that train, it would have spared me any impact of the Leyland fatality on my journey. As things were, it was standing room only on that service and I had luggage with me. One good thing that came from my exit was it made it easier for a mother and child to get off at Preston.

Once at Preston, it became a waiting game and we all were ushered onto a Transpennine Express train to Lancaster. It became yet another overload three carriage diesel train and railway packed in as many as they could too. The advice was to catch a rail replacement coach from Lancaster though the reopening of the line at Leyland by then was the cause of some confusion.

Planned weekend rail engineering works fortuitously meant that there were hourly rail replacement coaches available since the train service was reduced between Lancaster and Carlisle from 11:00 on that Saturday as a result. There still were trains running, albeit at a reduced frequency.

With so many false dawns with trains that morning, I opted for the certainty of a coach ride instead of waiting for another train. At that stage, I didn’t know if I was going all the way to Carlisle on the coach or not but it was taking me north anyway and i only cared about that at the time. The National Rail Enquiries app on my phone seemed to be confirming the reality of trains running again so I left the coach at Oxenholme. It was the live departures and arrivals functionality that had its use here.

There indeed were trains running north from Oxenholme and two Glasgow-bound Virgin Pendolinos appeared before another destined for Edinburgh. That was the one that I wanted and it turned out to be blissfully quiet too after the frenetic journey that had been my lot until then. As long as it lasted, I savoured the experience.

After little while in Edinburgh, I boarded an East Coast HST to get to Pitlochry. Its final destination was Inverness and, though it was well used, the journey was another good one with sunshine appearing north of Edinburgh. While awaiting the service, the train guard seemed overly enthusiastic when it came to moving everyone down the platform, an annoying trait to have in someone else when you want to stay near the front so as to improve the chances of getting a good seat. That was easily forgettable once the train set off though, especially compared to the earlier part of my journey, the main cause of my arriving later at my destination than I had in mind.

The return journey went far smoother. A ScotRail train got me from Pitlochry to Edinburgh without too much sign of overcrowded. Everyone seemed to have a seat though it was a well patronised train. Transpennine Express came up trumps with a six carriage train from Edinburgh to Manchester and that was a peaceful journey too with my having gone to the front carriage for a seat. The only perturbation was a bridge being struck near Preston that caused the service to terminate in Manchester Piccadilly rather than Manchester Airport as scheduled. The last part of my journey to Macclesfield was uneventful if delayed. Getting home slightly later than planned was a minor thing compared to other experiences that I have had.

Whether it is due to my greater awareness of what is happening on the railways due to Twitter or not, there seem to be a lot disruption to trains caused by things external to the railways. Trespassing on the track is but one of these and an animal was struck near Macclesfield this morning, causing delays as you’d expect. When people are involved, it obviously is far more serious and you think of those who have been left after the deceased. Then, there are bridge strikes due to road traffic accidents and problems with level crossings. Cable theft is yet another behaviour that causes so much disruption. All of those should make it clear that lateness of trains is as much in the hands of those of us outside of the railway industry as it does of railway staff. After, you only have to tot up failures of signals, points and overhead electricity supplies to realise how frail our rail system can be. When you consider that, you may be amazed how well it works at all.

Not so nice on the ears

Work has been the cause of taking me on journeys to and from Hertfordshire from Macclesfield over the last few months. Parts of those are made on First Capital Connect trains between London King’s Cross and Hatfield. It’s the passage at speed through tunnels that has inspired for the title.

It seems that there is a pressure change on passing through every one that is reminiscent of air travel and it isn’t pleasant for ones ears, or mine at least. Though the southeast of England not that hilly, the East Coast Mainline seems to pass through its share of tunnels as it goes through Greater London and Hertfordshire. The ones between Hatfield and Hitchin never are perceptible but the same cannot be said for those south of Hatfield. Quite how no comment has arisen about them is a little beyond though there are other causes for complaint such as how busy these trains can be, having to stand can be common depending on when you travel.

When I had cause to travel between Edinburgh and London, I cannot recall my ears “popping” on going through tunnels near London but the air conditioning on those trains may cancel out the effect and there were other concerns in my mind back then; interviews for first jobs after university were what drew me down from Scotland on day return itineraries. Then, I wouldn’t realise quiet how unsettling it is to see trains travelling a breakneck speed through commuter stations because it was so far in the future.

That last fact may explain the sensation I am getting in my ears on FCC trains. However, that also makes me wonder if the lack of quadrification on the West Coast Mainline between Stock-on-Trent and Stockport keeps even express services from speeding through trains like their counterparts on the East Coast Mainline. That may be frustrating for those wanting to shorten travel times but it makes awaiting a train in a station that bit less scary and passage through any tunnels less of an experience. It also is another argument for getting HS2 as far as Manchester but that’s another story.

U.K. Train Companies on Twitter

When snow came down on us, the frailities of the U.K.’s transport information provision systems was apparent for all to see. It was that which showed the best side of microblogging services like Twitter. In that vein, here are the Twitter areas occupied by the train companies forming part of the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) that itself runs National Rail Enquiries. It we get more snow during this big freeze, then these would be the places to turn for train running information.