A New Appearance

If you have not been here for a while, you should see signs of a refresh. The old design used code that stopped working so the website had the appearance of having gone offline. That has been replaced by what you find here now and all appears to be working well so far.

Though there were continual updates to a lot of the content on here, 2016 still was a quieter year on here. Other things in my life took up more of my attention so longer entries were absent. Now that we are in 2017, the big task that dominated last year is behind me though there will be smaller ones to do in addition to my day job. The upheaval cause by bereavement still makes its present felt.

2016 also was a big year in world news with Britain sadly and narrowly choosing to leave the European Union in a referendum and the U.S.A. electing Donald Trump as its president. Both of these mean that uncertain times that lie ahead of us and the impact on public transport is as yet unknown.

Still, I did get to sampling train and bus services on much needed breaks away from a frantic everyday life. These included Austrian and Norwegian train services as well as Mallorcan bus services. They may provide inspiration for entries on here yet. The same may be said for the Swiss train network and Icelandic bus services too and these were experienced during 2015.

Otherwise, there are sure to be developments in British and Irish public transportation. After all, Bus Éireann is in financial trouble at the moment and needs to restructure its operations in order to survive. What that means for bus services in Ireland has yet to be seen and trade unions are unhappy too. Then, there is the long running saga of industrial relations problems in Southern Railway that have made life a misery for so many in the southeast of England. GHA Coaches went bust and the affects of that business collapse still are being felt across much of England and Wales. Such developments mean that there always is a need for some public transport advocacy too. Maybe it is time for a little more of that in these testing times.

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.

A little something for the summer in Northern Ireland

When doing a refresh of the Rural Services: NI page, it came to my attention that Ulsterbus have a number of seasonal services on offer in addition to their Rambler ones for visitors to and residents of Northern Ireland. The first of these is Goldline Express 221 which operates one journey each way between Belfast and Giant’s Causeway, giving you a next to next to 3 hour stay at the World Heritage Site (with a reduction on entry fees to the National Trust Visitor Centre too if the weather isn’t being kind) if you opt for a return day trip. Along the way, there are stops in Ballymena and Bushmills but it otherwise appears to be very much an express service and it continues until the start of September.

For those who fancy a longer stay at the Giant’s Causeway than three hours, there’s a later evening departure offered by Goldline 252, also known as the Antrim Coaster since it calls at so many places along the said county’s coastline between Belfast and Coleraine. There is one return journey over the whole route each way and another one between Coleraine and Larne to compliment it. The latter meets with service 256 for those wishing to travel onward to Belfast or go the other way. The 252 continues until the end of September and operates Monday to Saturday until the end of this month when Sunday services start for it and the 256 connecting journeys.

Since it was those rambler services that were the cause alerting me to the above, I suppose that I’d better mention these too. There are four in total that I have found with two being seasonal and others being year round. The first of the latter is Monday to Friday (no bank holidays) service 407 from Kilkeel to Attcal and Cranfield and second is Monday to Saturday service 403 (three journeys each way) from Magherafelt to Omagh. The 407 is known also as the Kilkeel Rambler and the 403 gets the Sperrin Rambler name. The Mourne Rambler is a seasonal offering that starts out from Newcastle and embarks on a good circuit through the Mourne Mountains. It gets the service number of 405 and operates five journeys from Tuesday to Sunday and bank holiday Mondays until the start of September. There also is a Causeway Rambler for those spending longer along the north Antrim coast and it runs daily with an hourly frequency until the end of September as service 402.

Usefully, there is a Bus Rambler ticket for travelling across Northern Ireland on Ulsterbus services that is available during the main summer school holidays after 09:15. It costs £9 for adults and £4.50 for children. Also, there’s a Family and Friends ticket for £20 that is available during weekends all year round and every day during the summer holiday months of July and August. The latter allows two adults and four children to go together as a group (and it’s an extra £4 per extra child) so it looks a tempting offer for families in times when money is a scarer commodity.

With all the above, there should be more scope for looking around Northern Island’s more scenic spots without needing to use a car. It would be better is more of these services were year round and not seasonal but there always is the matter of demand to be considered. As it happens, an Easter or May to September span of the year isn’t so bad anyway. Maybe I might be tempted to pop over there myself.

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.

On the way to another year

From the travel point of view, 2010 got a very dramatic ending with the cold temperatures that brought us snow and ice. While it was the airports that bore the brunt of the weather, train and bus services suffered too, particularly in the first round of the cold weather. With the temperatures set to drop again in the next few days, we’ll have to see what happens. After all, it was in January of the year ending tonight that we really saw the snow cause trouble around eastern Cheshire. Who knows what lies around the corner?

Speaking of what may come our way in the future, we have what comes from any public spending cuts in Britain and Ireland. Warrington, North Yorkshire and Derbyshire already have shown signs of what may be precipitated by cuts to council budgets. There’s no word on anything like that from Cheshire but that may change.

Still, rail has seen some announcements regarding investment and can be said to have done better than expected. However, that has to be tempered by the prospect of sizeable hikes in ticket prices beyond those we have seen in recent years.

All in all, 2011 could become more interesting than some among us would rather. It could be one where we have to stand up for what services we have so that total savagery is avoided. Still, not everything has to be sacrificed so we’ll have to enjoy using what we can. Hope the new year is good to you and that you come through it untouched by any economic torment.