On Trains & Buses

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


Posted on November 30, 2022

Since the summer, our lives have been beset by various ongoing industrial actions possibly caused by pay constraints and the rise in the cost of living. There is one at Royal Mail that seems set to affect the Christmas posting period. Arriva has been affected by numerous strikes that were all-out stoppages with little or no service being provided in some places. The one in the northwest of England thankfully got sorted, but there have been others since then.

The railways have been particularly affected with the RMT actions set to continue into 2023. The strike action at Network Rail has been very disruptive with many travel days lost and next to whole weeks blotted out in December and January. That is not all but train crew have been striking as well, so the dependability of rail travel has gone for now. We just have to sit and wait until things get back to some sort of normality, again. There were tastes of this around the royal funeral and during a respite during which unsuccessful talks took place.

It is not as if there are no other underlying problems, either. One example is the ever-present shortage of bus drivers that curtails the frequency of timetabled services. Another is the travails of Avanti and Transpennine Express. Both have not been operating their full timetables for a while. Admittedly, the dependence on goodwill working on rest days for overtime pay has not helped, and neither has delays in train driver recruitment and training caused by the pandemic.

The picture is not a positive one, and there are public spending cuts and tax rises to come. It just feels as if the U.K. has become somewhere where nothing works well. During the year, I got to Ireland a few times and encountered a marked contrast. Apart from the absence of catering on trains or delays to journeys, nearly everything seems to run well over there. Certainly, my only fear of getting stranded was as a result of my own ineptitude.

That was unlike my getaways over the August bank holiday weekend when creative thinking was needed when heading to Stirling. A stopover in Carlisle not only got around lack of service availability, but also offered the chance of a sunny day out around Helvellyn. After that, getting to Scotland was a possibility. Things went better around the royal funeral when I snagged a return to Scotland in a strike-free period when train companies had to do better if people were to pay their respects.

Air travel had its problems with staffing this year as well, but thoughts of an overseas trip brighten what otherwise looks a dark period for British public transport. Trouble is, I am feeling too weary right now because of work and ongoing business in Ireland. Maybe a few weeks rest around Christmas will help address that, and that might help others to get things back on track for everyone else as well.


Posted on November 29, 2022

In the end, the merger of Stagecoach with National Express did not happen at all. The attentions of the Competition Commission meant that an overseas investment fund takeover by DWS could happen. Thus, Stagecoach Group continues to exist largely as it was but what the change means for its flair and competence remains to be seen.

What we do know is that its last rail working in the U.K., Sheffield’s Supertram, is to go into public sector operation next year. There are also moves around the U.K. to move into public transport franchising, particularly in Manchester but also in Wales. This is usually not Stagecoach’s preference, but it will need to adapt. In addition, enhanced transport partnerships are developing too. Stagecoach did increase its stake in Scottish Citylink by adding Megabus operations to the company, which means that ComfortDelGro has a say in those operations too. Acquisitions continue too in the form of an increase to its presence in London.

Go Ahead was another operator to undergo a change of ownership. That was the result of a joint bid by Australia’s Kinetic Group and Spain’s Globalvia. The first of these already operates bus concessions across Australia and New Zealand, while the second is a transport infrastructure company. Given Go Ahead’s moves into Asia, Australasia and other parts of Europe, the fit makes some sense, and what likely is coming in the U.K. is not incompatible either. After all, mistakes like what caused the loss of the Southeastern franchise need to be avoided at any time, especially these.

Scotland’s McGill Group is expanding too with its acquisition of First’s eastern Scottish operations. There already has been rebranding using the older names of Eastern Scottish and Midland Bluebird. The first of these includes Edinburgh and West Lothian, while the second is centred around Stirling. When I was around Stirling during August and September, the changeover was in progress behind the scenes. Investment in new vehicles has been promised, but it remains to be seen what can happen to what was a tired if efficient operation in the testing times in which we now find ourselves.

The current economic and budgetary conditions mean that the sort of expansiveness that some of us may recall will not be extensive for a while to come. It is as if we have gone from the optimistic zenith at the turn of the century to the current nadir. That will mean many more changes like those described above and that entrepreneurial experimentation and innovation will not pervade until things improve. We need to be patient in the meantime.

Merger Ahead?

Posted on February 14, 2022

One of the big developments that emerged in the U.K. transport services world in the last few months has been the possibility of National Express and Stagecoach coming together. This time around, it is National Express that is the senior partner and that is very different to how things were ten years ago. There were talks around that time that never came to anything but it would have been Stagecoach that led in those days.

Things are serious enough that Stagecoach’s express coach service operations are to go to Comfort DelGro, their partners in the Scottish Citylink operation. It extends further than that though because MegBus and South West Falcon would be sold to them as well. That would leave National Express coach services and allow the possibility of using Stagecoach depots for these as well.

Currently, the deal is on hold pending the outcome of an inquiry by the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority. If it were to proceed, then a new international transport company would be created. Within Britain, it would be mainly a bus and coach service operation along with the Sheffield SuperTram in the light rail market. Because of respective travails, it has little impact on the rail network.

There was a time when National Express dominated the U.K. rail industry with numerous franchises that included ScotRail, Central Trains, Midland Mainline, Wales & Borders, Wessex Trains, c2c and National Express East Coast (NXEC). Most of these were lost on re-tendering while NXEC did not make enough money to pay the franchise premium and c2c was sold to Trenitalia.

Stagecoach also became a pervasive operator with South West Trains becoming one the longest-lived private sector operators and East Midlands Trains taking over from National Express undertakings. Another long-lived association was with Virgin Trains in its CrossCountry, West Coast and East Coast incarnations. While the brand was spared the indignity of operating through the pandemic, their uplifting, optimistic and somewhat cheeky air is something that I still miss a lot. The execution may have been imperfect but their heart was in the task and there was an entrepreneurial air that needs rekindling in these darker times. Stagecoach eventually gained such a reputation for competence that they too might be missed and they did get a fitting send-off in the National Rail Awards.

The company tried out all sorts of things in its day with even a hovercraft service across the Firth of Forth being tried for a while. Some of the innovations remained while others did not last but there was a sense of experimentation that was laudable. Numerous overseas ventures were attempted even if a lot of them did not persist. Despite these initiatives, they never forgot the core business so you could depend on them and that is more than be said for some operators today.

To me, National Express makes more of a steady-state impression and their white coach liveries are in line with this. Their bus operations are limited to the West Midlands these days with their Dundonian ones having been sold to McGill’s. Given that, you might think them smaller than Stagecoach with its more pervasive bus networks but that is not how it is. innovation does not strike as a hallmark of the company but it is promising a big switchover to electric vehicles as part of the merger outcome.

Losing Stagecoach’s inventive spirit would be a loss but I still am watching what happens. For now, my vantage point is through the pages of Buses magazine rather than something more speedy in information delivery terms. It looks as if a big changeover is coming so we may have little choice but to await what comes. It could be just the shake-up that the bus and coach market needs.

A Major Switchover

Posted on February 12, 2022

Perhaps unwisely, this website has gained a technology overhaul. It was powered by WordPress for a long time until I got fed up with its slowness. While a server upgrade would have helped, I went for something more drastic: a switch to something completely different.

It is all on a new server anyway so I thought that I would try something else: the automated building of a static website from MarkDown files using Hugo. With less happening on the server, you should see things load faster albeit with some front end scripting to enliven things a bit. In this, I am not alone but it is a more technical approach that may be for everyone. My skills fit this and it is good to try something else.

It also was a chance to reorganise the existing content and even to remove obsolete items so some old links may not work as they did. Some broken links did get fixed though and it reminded me of my mindset and situation earlier in the site’s history. Then, I was a commuter who had enough time to use trains and buses on hill walking and other excursions as well. These days, I work largely from home and the ongoing pandemic has reduced the extent of my outings. The latter hopefully will expand as things improve but there is something else too: I used to keep more up to date on what was happening in transportation.

These days, I limit my Twitter use because there is too much bad news around for my psyche to take and that curtails my learning of new developments. Still, some things come my way like the ongoing travails of rail funding and an upcoming reorganisation and there also is the new buses initiative in England that is long overdue and may prove to be a case of being too little too late.

While travels were curtailed by the pandemic, many services were cut and ceased to run altogether. Then, there was not much to say but an increasing sense of normality could change that and more travel means more experiences to relate too. Also, being out and about means that anyone should come across things that they would have learned otherwise.

After the technical changeover, it is time to keep adding content and I hope that there will be much more to come. Stories of old overseas escapades could make a start and we badly need an uptick in transportation initiatives because it all feels as if things have been on hold for far too long.

Cross-boundary floundering

Posted on October 17, 2021

Last year, D&G Buses took over services 109 between Macclesfield and Leek and 108 between Leek and Ashbourne. When that happened, I was looking forward to the services being operated by a more mainstream operator and even travelled to Leek to commence hikes from there.

The first of those was in September of 2020 when I walked from Leek to Buxton and the experience was a satisfactory one apart from there being a group going to Leek for what appeared to be a day of drinking. The first period of lockdown had passed and things were opening up though coronavirus case numbers were rising. Social distancing was being observed and only one passenger was not wearing a face covering.

Several lockdowns later, I travelled again from Macclesfield to Leek in June of this year. That was not such a happy experience and reflects how cordiality on the part of a bus driver makes things feel much better. Using a card with the ticket machine did not go smoothly and even attracted a comment like “I could wait here all day…” before the ticket was issued. The bus was quieter and I got off at the same time as another passenger to leave only the driver on the bus; it felt better not to be braving a soul that had the air of being a grumpy old jobsworth who was putting down time until retirement. If anything, there is a need to be careful how you come across to others.

After that sour experience, I did not let it ruin my day as I hiked from Leek back to Macclesfield again. Though parts were busy because tier 3 restrictions remained in place, the glorious sunshine, the wonderful scenery and the occasional friendly soul all made it worthwhile.

What I was not to know was that D&G were to give up routes 108 and 109 at the start of September. Given my June experience, I now wonder if others were put off by driver attitude because I did overhear a conversation discussing that subject with regard to one of the D&G drivers on another of their routes in July 2020. There have been multiple lockdowns so it might not be just that but there was a break in service when things got complicated.

For one thing, Hulleys of Baslow decided to offer a limited stop service between Ashbourne and Manchester Airport. This was to be numbered X1 with calls at Waterhouses, Leek, Bosley and Macclesfield along the way. In the event, nothing came of it and D&G Buses won a contract for service 108. That left route 109 but Aimee’s Travel have stepped in there with a new contract so services between Macclesfield and Leek have been restored.

The outcome is what was wanted but execution felt clumsy. Communication was not what it should have been and changes continued until everything settled down again. It all is a reminder of what we lost when the original X1 between Derby and Manchester was broken up into different sections. Another point is that we need a national networks or a set of regional ones in England to do what TrawsCymru does in Wales. Leaving everything to local authorities does not make for joined-up thinking and you only have to look at the decline of route 130 that once extended from Macclesfield to Manchester to see what that means.

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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