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.

Changes to High Peak Bus Services 2013-03-12

Here, I am referring to the bus company named High Peak rather than the area since it has its share of bus operators too. While I am most interested in its Cheshire operations, there’s a lot of change coming in its Derbyshire hinterland too.

That it operates services other than cross-boundary ones into Cheshire does look a little surprising when you consider that it’s based in Dove Holes near Buxton and that winter weather often takes its toll on their operations. Still, they are continuing with their Knutsford town service 300 even after they are planning to mothball the service 27 between Macclesfield and Knutsford. That’s now going out to tender so it’ll be interesting how things look from next month. Around the same time, the 300 is becoming a fully commercial operation that leaves out the Queensway and Tabley Road parts of the route though GHA’s 289 between Northwich, Knutsford and Altrincham offers an alternative to the 300, which may explain the change. A shortened Macclesfield town service 1 still continues though that was to be withdrawn and the Macclesfield to Stockport routes 392 and 393 are under their custodianship too. After those, there’s the cross-boundary services that took Bowers, High Peak’s predecessor, into Cheshire in the first place and these connect Macclesfield with Buxton (58), Glossop (64) and New Mills (60), occasionally along with other places that include Disley (60) and Bakewell (58).

Bus services serving Ashbourne are seeing a lot of changes from the start of April. The 42 and 42A direct services to Buxton are a casualty though the 441 is a partial replacement. Otherwise, it’s the 442 that’s mainstay with a largely hourly service on all days of the week except Sunday when a lower frequency over the whole route is on offer.

Otherwise, there are a number of less frequent Monday to Saturday services fanning out from Ashbourne to serve Thorpe (101), Parwich (102) and Kirk Ireton (103). This reorganisation means that the 111 to Parwich no longer will operate after the end of March. High Peak also gain a Monday to Saturday evening journey from Ashbourne to Derby; the service number is 109.

After those, there just are timetable and route tweaks. The 389 New Mills town service is among these as are the 390 Shire Hill Hospital to Whitfield and 394 Glossop to Stepping Hill Hospital. Following cuts in Cheshire East, you’d be wishing to be wishing for this scale of adjustment again but it may be a while coming given the times in which we live.

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.

Nearly back to normal

After yesterday’s snow, public transport seems to be returning to normal though there may be changes from the usual timetable in the morning. For one thing, the Bletchley disruption on the WCML is continuing and some train and bus operators in the south-east are still experiencing some difficulties. Of these, Southern Trains is just one with their website’s front page being a summary of service running information; their website must have run into bother earlier.

Other websites felt the strain too and the new Greater Anglia (formerly National Express East Anglia) website got a baptism of fire. Like Southern, it too has a front page giving a service overview but there’s their JourneyCheck page and Twitter feed too and that has been very active over the course of today. The rest of the website doesn’t seem to have been put into place though.

Yet another website that went down on everybody was that for Arriva Buses. Nevertheless, bus users in Yorkshire and the Northeast of England were well served with Twitter feeds. One wonders why we don’t get the same in the English Northwest too. After all, there is a Twitter account but it never seems to get used.

Though the BBC did sterling work when it came to overviews, Twitter seemed to come into its own (Facebook may have done the same but I am keeping out of there given Mark Zuckerberg’s approach to privacy and the IPO that has happened) during the weekend, especially with everything developing so quickly. In fact, you could tell where the snow was by the number of disruption information tweets. Some operators ran into the 1000 tweets (includes retweets and replies too) per day limit though waiting until after 00 or 30 minutes past the hour was enough to get going again, albeit with a 20 tweet per 30 minute quota as I found out for myself last night. Some operators have backup accounts for dealing with this situation so you have to ask what the 1000 tweet limit really achieves.

Along the way, I got to learn of some new operators: Marshalls of Sutton-on-Trent and Premiere Buses (of Nottingham, it seems). Links to both have been added to the bus companies page on here and it’s always good to grow more comprehensive.

Around Cheshire, most major roads are now clear though Bowers weren’t too trusting of the A537 for their 58 service between Macclesfield and Buxton. Buses were serving Bollington and the 130 to Manchester seemed to be going too though the live bus tracker seemed to be playing its usual non-availability games as it has been for the last few weeks. Both today and yesterday would have made good days for having it going given the weather that we got.

Continuing with road conditions, there is a lot of slush about the place and I don’t fancy the outcomes if either that or any standing water froze tonight. So far, temperatures seem to be holding at 2° C so there’s hope that any frost will not be so severe and there was a lot of melt-water around when I was last out and about. Cheshire East Council don’t seem to be taking chances though and there are gritters out and about again tonight although there’s no sign that pavements are being gritted by the council; maybe that’s being left to householders (before Christmas 2010, there was a statement to that effect from the then Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond) and I was out clearing that next to mine today. With all the lying snow and the threat of ice, we’ll have to see what the morning brings when it comes.

An eventful evening

Snow arrived today as promised and travel disruption ensued. At the time of writing, Arriva Yorkshire and Nottingham City Transport are operating no bus services at all rail and disruption is hitting both the East Coast Mainline along with services around Bolton and Blackburn. More generally, bus services are experiencing difficulties across the north of England and into the English midlands so it’s best to check with your operator to make sure that your service is operating.

Twitter has been a good place to see what’s happening and those of us who are on there need to watch our daily limit of 1000 updates (20 per half hour, it seems) too. Even transport operators such as Virgin Trains and London Midland have been known to hit these limits on days like yesterday when severe disruption was caused by a derailment near Bletchley. For these eventualities, they have been known to open more accounts so you wonder what the limit achieves.

More roads than those used by buses get affected too and the A537 between Macclesfield and Buxton and the A54 between the latter and Buxton are closed tonight. It is an open question as to whether Bowers’ service 58 between Macclesfield and Buxton will operate tomorrow given that it was off the road last Saturday. Today, it kept going until at least 15:00 since I spotted one on the Cat and Fiddle Inn’s webcam.

Whatever you do tonight, I hope that you stay safe. Tomorrow could be interesting as well though we are promised milder weather as the new week wears on. It seems that Ireland has been unaffected by wintry weather apart from disruption to U.K. flights. That really drives home how regional how weather can be.