On Trains & Buses

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

Improvements, what improvements?

Posted on December 14, 2008

The massive reorganisation that is the new train timetable changeover hasn’t been too kind to Macclesfield. It might not sound so bad to hear that we have been left with three an hour in each direction but it’s the timings that disappoint me, even if the frequency is a cut from that which we have been enjoying for a while now. What is the matter is that Virgin and CrossCountry don’t seem to have worked together to get their times in the hour better separated.

The main pattern for weekday service from Manchester is 27, 35 and 48 minutes past the hour. The CrossCountry in the 27 departure and the 35 is the Virgin one while the 48 is Northern Rail’s local stopping service that now goes all the way to Stoke-on-Trent, not necessarily a bad thing since it opens some new destinations for Macclesfield folk.

Sundays see the same sort of thinking about which I have already complained on my hillwalking blog, especially with the timings of the local stopping service; the TSO timetable had more services listed but these have since turned out to be a work of fiction. Until March 29th, Virgin and CrossCountry do well when keeping their Sunday services to different parts of the hour but this is forgotten on the date in question and both services end up so close together as make it laughable to suggest that Macclesfield is getting any more than an hourly service

This is the sort of thing that makes you want to go to a central timetabling authority to complain but there appears to be none so it’s a case of contacting each operator. Maybe, Passenger Focus might be able to provide some help if no satisfactory response is forthcoming from either of the companies in question. Our local MP is said to have “intervened” but, like a lot of places where he has stuck in his oar, it doesn’t seem to have the desired effect and we have been left with the less than ideal situation that we now face. It probably needs someone else to make an effort…

Is Arriva's retreat continuing?

Posted on December 12, 2008

This morning, I spotted that changes are on the way for the commercial 130 service that Arriva runs between Macclesfield and Manchester. I didn’t catch the details but I hope that there’s no backward steps from where we are now (newer buses, more regular service). In my search for more information, I visited Cheshire County Council’s website but so only an indication of timing changes for Saturdays.

While on there, I also noticed that services like the 392/3 between Macclesfield and Stockport and the 288 Knutsford-Wilmslow-Altrincham are no longer going to be operated by Arriva with BakerBus of Biddulph taking over the former and Vale of Llangollen running the latter. Cheshire isn’t well endowed with different bus operators so we end up getting ones from Derbyshire, Staffordshire and even North Wales coming into the fray. These services were contracted by the council so it could be that Arriva were uncompetitive in their tenders but the changes are a reminder of a trend that has all the hallmarks of a retreat.

Not so long ago, Arriva was the predominant operator in Cheshire but that its hold on that position is no longer as sure as it once was. Upheavals such as depot losses due to the introduction of new bus stations may well have had there part to play in all of this. For instance, bus services in Crewe are now run by a variety of companies with First Potteries and D&G running their fair share. In fact, Arriva’s depot in Crewe is now long shut with Macclesfield retaining one, even if they have had to move with the demolition of the old bus station to make way for a new medical centre.

Let’s hope that Arriva’s retreat from Cheshire doesn’t have an adverse impact of bus users like me. If there is a plan to reduce the frequency of the 130, I could commend it as an opportunity for another operator. Stagecoach perhaps? Well, Arriva does run the 130 from Manchester and it might be a wake up call for them.

Big changes ahead...

Posted on December 6, 2008

The December train timetable changes are ahead of us on mainland Britain again and there are some major alterations coming. Transpennine Express has notices up to that effect and Virgin has been making some big promises for a while now. Let’s all hope that it doesn’t turn out like the ill-fated Operation Princess did for Virgin CrossCountry a few years back.

If you can decipher such things and I have to admit that they seem to be as clear as mud in places, Network Rail has PDF’s for the current and forthcoming timetables on its website (there’s the £15 dead tree option too if you’re feeling flush); I honestly don’t envy Rail magazine’s Barry Doe in reviewing the these documents. In addition, the various operators have begun to roll out PDF’s for their own new timetables on their respective websites (Northern Rail has already done the needful). For the majority of us who are so disinclined, the National Rail Enquiries website has a useful overview of what’s coming and has the changes already loaded into its system already so you can dispense with the old means.

Joys of cascading?

Posted on November 27, 2008

On first sight, having someone else get the pleasures of nice new buses instead may not sound so wonderful. However, if you get their old buses, it may not be all that bad.

The 130 Manchester-Macclesfield service seems to have had a feel of a Cinderella about it, especially when you consider the buses that have purveyed the route over the years. When I first moved to Cheshire, daytime service was largely supplied mid-engined Leylands that felt and sounded tired. That unloved feel also applied to Leyland Lynxes and early Leyland Olympians were drafted in too. P-reg Mercedes minibuses, then among the most recent buses in the Macclesfield fleet, were used for on evening services. When early Dennis Darts came in replace the Leylands, there was a definite improvement in the journey quality.

When the service changed from hourly to half-hourly, tired ex-London L-reg Dennis Darts with Northern Counties bodies were brought in and continued in service through the tumultuous changeover to a new bus station in Macclesfield. That meant that Arriva lost its depot and the uncertainty in the summer of 2005 caused drivers to leave the company with staff shortages causing service cancellations and resulting in passenger discontent. It’s none too clever what can happen when management take their eye off the ball. I think that there might have been a changeover from Arriva Midlands North to Arriva Northwest and Wales in and around the same time too, which may not have helped even if it was a more sensible organisational arrangement.

Things stabilised when the service started to run from a depot in Manchester instead of Macclesfield and newer buses from Merseyside came on stream. These were again Dennis Darts but with Eastern Lancashire bodywork and ex-Liverpool registrations. These have been mainly M-reg with the occasional N-reg turning up at times too. Their age made them susceptible to mechanical breakdowns, particularly when stuck in heavy traffic for extended periods, so getting newer vehicles is an advance. Some were also a bit louder than might be liked; M169WKA caused me to complain twice before it was sorted after a lengthy absence from service.

Arriva’s 263 route in Greater Manchester seems to getting new Wright single deckers and it looks as if we are getting the X-reg Dennis Darts that they are displacing. While suspensions do feel worn on some of these, we are not getting a bad deal with the airiness of the interiors, the better seating and the extra legroom. Our “new” buses may be eight years old but the Plaxton bodywork still has a certain freshness about it and they are standard length too, something that seems to trouble some of the drivers at times. In recent years, we seem to have been getting ever newer buses every few years so it will be interesting to see when the next batch of more modern vehicles are offered to us and what they might be like.

When it all becomes too much

Posted on November 24, 2008

The last thing that anyone wants to see while awaiting a train is someone dropping down onto the tracks in front of it. However, that’s the sight that I witnessed in Oxenholme on my return from a walk among the Cumbrian fells on Saturday evening. I feared the worst and got myself away into the ticket office before I saw too much and left the professionals to deal with it. Call me a coward if you want but what I saw was already shocking enough and I really didn’t need to see any more; in any case, getting out of the way allows the emergency services to do what is needed without any hindrance. Thankfully, the train was halted in time so any injuries suffered were no way near as bad as those where my mind had gone on me.

Of course, something like this remains a serious matter and the police were in attendance (local police were there and I saw no sign of British Transport Police though they might have come later on) and conducting their investigations while an ambulance carried the unfortunate lady away for hospital treatment. Statements have to be taken and the scene assessed, all things that eat up time.

Luckily, my journey was only held up for an hour and I was home by 21:30 anyway so my thoughts are only with the lady concerned, her people and those had more to do with it than me. From what I could gather, the incident had the appearance of someone trying to do away with themselves, not at all a nice thought but a situation that could be triggered by financial troubles in these gloomy times. Let’s hope that it works out well for all concerned.

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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