On Trains & Buses

Travel news, views & information from Europe & North America by an independent public transport user

Has First really caught the express service coach bug?

Posted on August 19, 2009

Some may complain that it has the feel of a rough and ready engineering firm that you’d find in a remote corner of the Britain or Ireland but First have had a sizable presence in the express coach market alongside their more mainstream bus and train operations for a while now and you cannot maintain that by being sloppy. In the U.K., there are National Express contracts and the overnight London-Scotland services acquired from Silver Choice earlier this year. In addition to the latter, there also to seem to moves afoot to steal clothes from Stagecoach Express around Glasgow. Crossing to Ireland, there’s Aircoach and I wonder if that operation has taught them a thing or too. Continuing west, over the Atlantic in fact, their efforts to grab a piece of the American yellow schoolbus market brought with them the iconic U.S. express coach operator, Greyhound. With the creation of BoltBus, it is clear that things haven’t stopped there with the American operations and expanding in the U.K. is never something to which they are averse either. The result of that seems to be the introduction of the Greyhound brand over here for services operating between London and England’s southern coast. On that evidence (spotted in today’s Guardian), it looks as if the beleaguered National Express may have yet another woe coming its way with one of its contractors turning to (further) competition. It already has to contend with Megabus and you do have to ask if First is seeing a future bereft of the debt-laden operator following its moves towards a NEG takeover bid. Staying with the topic of questions, the arrival of Greyhound does leave me wondering if those overnight Anglo-Scottish services may yet carry the brand. Well, I might have started with that one…

No engine required for a hell of a racket

Posted on August 18, 2009

Last week saw me travel to Aviemore for a few day’s stay by way of the Caledonian Sleeper and I perhaps foolishly stuck with seated accommodation in the spirit of thrift. Scotrail seem to use Mk 2 carriages for that role and the roar when the brakes are applies cannot be missed. Might I suggest earplugs for a more peaceful night’s rest?  The same din was to be heard from Mk 1 Craven carriages used by Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail) until not so long ago but I reckon that they have been banished by newer coaching stock. In the days before the introduction of the Voyagers, the same metallic sound pervaded a cold December nighttime journey from Birmingham to Edinburgh after a job interview. In this day and age, it just makes me wonder why no one ever thought to change the bogies on the Mk 2 coaches to quieter ones like what are common on their Mk 3 and Mk 4 successors. However, that may have had something to do with the money available for such work when they were more commonly used. Replacing them with Mk 3 rolling stock is probably more sensible now that there has been an influx of new trains over the last decade and that the SuperExpress is in the offing. That leaves me to wonder when Scotrail might get to releasing the Mk 2’s from overnight duties. With the economic environment right now, that well may be a matter of money, a scarcer commodity in these troubled times.

A ride on an HST

Posted on August 3, 2009

On Saturday, I embarked on a journey that had me travelling on an NXEC HST without going anywhere next to near the stomping ground of the beleaguered NXEC. The train itself was bound from Manchester to Newquay and had been hired by CrossCountry in anticipation of the summer holidaying hoards, not that it was very full when I was on it. Admittedly, it was early in the morning when I set off from Macclesfield to Wolverhampton en route to Machynlleth in Wales.

HST’s are many people’s idea of a perfect but my mind started to compare it with newer trains. For one thing, the delay in setting off from any station was more than a little noticeable. Having to slam all of the doors shut will have a bearing on this but I am wondering if other things are in play. So many of our trains have underfloor engines that it is a little eerie sitting in an unpowered trailer carriage awaiting the off. Many prize the quietness and smoothness but those engines do seem to add a certain extra immediacy that allays any impatience. Another thing is that there needs to be an added heave to get things moving, even if there is a power car at either end. So, does distributing the power to each train carriage make it easier to set off? Virgin were in the habit that it does and I can see what they mean.

One other though bubbled up as I disembarked at Wolverhampton: operating the doors. More specifically, I wonder how many people get confounded by the need to push down the window and reach out to use the handle to open the door when push button operation is so commonplace. What places this into sharp relief is the surprise expressed by a Swedish acquaintance upon travelling on an old West Coast Mk III set; it seems that the outside door handle approach with which so many have been familiar in former times are foreign to residents in other countries, Sweden for example. It might be the same with many British train travellers too. Recalling the fumbling that passengers did when Voyagers and Pendolinos were introduced, I do ask myself if the same foolish operates in the reverse direction.

While I am sure that some HST’s will make it into preservation, the onset of the Super Express more than likely will end their reign on the British railways. After all, they were only ever intended as a stopgap measure, albeit one that has lasted into its fourth decade so far. So, if you are into your railway experiences, it might be worth catching a HST while you can. Along with NXEC, CrossCountry, East Midlands and First Great Western all have their own. Saying that, with the financial constraints facing us, I wouldn’t bet against them continuing in regular service into their fifth decade. Well, they must have lasted this long for a reason…

School's out...

Posted on July 27, 2009

and buses start running on time. This is nothing that I especially notice with the 130 running between Macclesfield and Manchester but quieter traffic during the school holidays has been something that I have known since I lived in Edinburgh. Then, I put it down to people not driving their kids to school but I have come to realise that there is more to it than that. Parents time their annual leave to coincide with the holidays and that makes it more apparent again. Then, there’s the current economic downturn and I noticed how much quieter the traffic was in the first few weeks of the year. It must have allowed Bowers to re-time their buses more tightly but there remain days when the 130 can be hit and miss, to say the least.

Only those almost incessant roadworks seek to spoil the bus timing idyll and this could be a very tempting time to set them in motion. Some, however, will not fit the available time with a three-month disruption hitting Chester Road between Broken Cross roundabout and the fire station. Then, there’s Buxton Road and Fence Avenue too. A recent look on Cheshire’s roadworks map reveals that Macclesfield is besieged by the blighters but Wilmslow doesn’t escape either so the 130 gets diverted while going around there.

Even with all of the ongoing work, it’s best to enjoy the quietness before the school year recommences in September. Then, those pesky road works can only have their effects amplified and I only wonder how many complaints will get made.

A day ticket wouldn't have cost much more...

Posted on July 26, 2009

Yesterday, I got out for a walk that took me from Kidsgrove to Wheelock near Sandbach. To get home, I caught the 38 and the single fare was £3.60. Arriva operate the Macclesfield-Crewe service both commercially and with council support, depending on the day of the week and the time of day. Gratifyingly, it was being well used when I was travelling yesterday evening with a healthy mixture of fare-paying and pass-wielding patrons. It was well driven too, not an experience that I can always about my experiences of using this service, particularly for occasions when travelling on the last one of a Sunday; Crewe bus drivers apparently have a reputation for being a bit mad in the driving, justified, so I may have had one. To return to the issue of the cost of travel, I don’t begrudge the fare that I was charged but the price of an Arriva day ticket is £4 and that makes me wonder if there are single fares of more than the price of a day ticket. Perhaps, asking for a day ticket when travelling from Crewe to Macclesfield or vice versa might be an idea even when embarking on a one way trip. It’s a thought that I’ll keep in mind.

Recent Snippets

22:27, April 12, 2024

Bellevue, near Seattle, has a free electric shuttle bus service in the form of Bellhop, operated by Circuit. According to 425, they seem to be happy with how things are going so far, and the conurbation is being linked to Seattle by light rail too.

21:51, January 31, 2024

Earlier in the month, LNER announced the start of a simpler fares pilot to proceed for two years from 2024-02-05. Only three kinds of fare are available and both Off-Peak and Super Off-Peak fares are unavailable.

Flexibility continues in the form of Anytime tickets with Advance ticket being the most restricted. There is a new semi-flexible offering called 70min Flex that allows travel on any service departing within 70 minutes of the booked departure.

Thankfully, flexibility remains for walk-on passengers despite some appearing to want a book-ahead railway. Apps may be a workaround, but there is something about turning up and going that is so precious.

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