On Trains & Buses

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

More overseas experiences

Posted on December 23, 2019

So far, most of what you find here pertains to British or Irish public transport but I have sampled their counterparts elsewhere too and I have had it in mind to feature my experiences using these. The countries include Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Spain, the Netherlands and Canada so there is scope for a few articles though I may not spread things out so much that is one per country. Perhaps, there is room for one post about getting around the European Alps, another for Scandinavia and so on.

So many travel guides do not feature public transport as a way to get around overseas destinations that I feel that there is a gap that needs filling. It is all too easy to choose fly/drive deal that negates these. In truth, there are limitations and they especially apply in the U.S.A. something that is dulling any enthusiasm for that part of the world since I myself do not drive.

Nevertheless, other perspectives feel in order and that especially applies in a time bus usage is declining in the U.K. A current sign of that is Arriva’s decision to cancel service 130 between Macclesfield and East Didsbury, something that I see as a trunk route so I hope that someone else steps into the gap that is left behind. It all shows that there is need for added positivity in these times of great upheaval.

A north-western triangle

Posted on February 17, 2019

Following the suspension of strike action against Northern Rail, I decided to embark on a rail outing on the first Saturday of fully restored services. This was a repeat of a journey that I took in October 2017 that made use of the North West Round Robin day ranger ticket. That happened on a weekday and, apart from a phone call from my solicitor in Ireland, it was a quiet affair.

The North West Round Robin ticket allows travel within a circuit bound by Preston, Leeds and Carlisle and cost me £40.50 on the day of travel. My journey took me east from Preston to Leeds, north from Leeds to Carlisle with a break in Skipton and then south from Carlisle to Preston again. Along the way, I sampled different Northern Rail services as well as a Virgin one for the last leg.

In addition to doing some reading of a book on Irish history by Diarmaid Ferriter, I also wanted to include some window gazing since my itinerary passed though such scenic parts as the South Pennines and the Yorkshire Dales. The previous circuit inspired me to revisit Calderdale after a long absence so it became a chance to go from Hebden Bridge to Todmorden in bright autumnal sunshine. More walking trips were to follow, albeit in Cheshire and Derbyshire but this is where the seed got sown.

As I travelled along the Settle to Carlisle railway, I remarked to myself about the carpet-like appearance of the landscape. That it was a result of sheep grazing is decried by some but I somehow find it sufficiently appealing that thoughts of further walking trips entered my mind. Only time will show how far this thinking goes.

Trains were busier than on the previous weekday circuit so the restoration was well known to passengers. Aside from the occasional oddball and someone who chose arguing with his friends as a way of getting over a racist comment, the travelling was pleasant this time around too and every train ran on time, which helped with connections.

The day ranger ticket did not work on the ticket gates at Leeds station and that is why I broke the journey from there to Carlisle at Skipton. Otherwise, it was accept on all trains for which I needed it. The return journey between Macclesfield and Preston was not covered so an extra set of tickets was needed for that with CrossCountry, Transpennine Express and Northern services all working as needed.

So long as the Northern Rail dispute does not disrupt Saturday services like it did, other possibilities now offer themselves. Day trips to the countryside for walking again become realistic with the North York Moors, the Lake District, the Peak District, the South Pennines and the Yorkshire Dales all feeling more open than they were. What is needed now is the resolve to visit some of these of a sunny day. With spring on the way and the ongoing expansion of daylight hours, numerous possibilities await.

One way to lose a mirror

Posted on December 20, 2018

Last Saturday, I headed off to Sheffield for a spot of Christmas shopping despite the ongoing Northern Rail strikes that are now set to continue into 2019. To avoid any busy CrossCountry or Virgin trains, I had designs on catching one bus to Buxton followed by another to Sheffield. My own clumsiness defeated that plan by only just missing the Buxton bus.

Instead, I caught service 391 to Stockport and was greeted by new 68 registered Alexander Dennis Enviro 200. However, the route goes via a load of narrow lanes as it serves such places at Kerridge, Bollington, Pott Shrigley and Poynton along the way. It was on one of those lanes that the nearside bus mirror broke off while it negotiated its way past oncoming vehicles. Thankfully, it continued the rest of the way but I suspect that it was taken out of service given the mishap.

After that, a return train journey took me from Stockport to Sheffield on East Midlands Trains four carriage services. On those, I was seated unlike some experiences on three carriage trains operated by Transpennine Express. The last stretch of the return journey to Macclesfield was less busy than I might have feared. It was very different from a similar experience some weeks earlier on my return from a trip to Ireland when the train was packed with people.

That was just as well given the weather and that may have kept services less busy. The same could not said for Sheffield city centre but my shopping excursion was a success and Sheffield station was a quieter place with less Northern train services available. Maybe people are travelling less on Saturdays now but I do hope the industrial unrest is resolved in 2019. It does feel as the sides are not coming together so it seems that we have a while to wait before that happens.

Trouble with passenger numbers

Posted on September 5, 2018

Just when it needs some extra help with promotion, things are not going so well in the world of public transport. This past May saw a disastrous timetable changeover that still has its lingering effects at the time of writing. On day strikes are peppering the calendar with the RMT stoppages of Northern services every Saturday in September because of proposed changes in the train conductor role. Other train companies are affected by the same disagreement and it hardly is helping service regularity.

With all of this, is it any surprise that railway passenger growth has stalled and even shows signs of declining? After all, ticket prices continue to rise using what many consider to be the wrong inflation measure. The Retail Price Index applies and the Consumer Price Index always comes up as a suggested replacement. When some have not had salary increases for a long time and they need to commute by rail every working day, it is easy to see why this is an issue.

With those travails, it also is not that difficult why many work from home and it does nothing to help commuter numbers. Admittedly, I am one of those these days and that makes less of a bus or train user than I once was. After all, bus service cuts have taken and their toll and a heftily-priced season ticket would have been in order for one work opportunity. Being able to manage all my affairs from home feels better than alternative of a busy commute and others will relish the extra time for attending to their own family affairs. When you consider how many work on a train or bus while on the way to and from their place of employment, it does not sound like fun.

The stability of the bus network also needs mentioned for councils have been cutting back on subsidised services since the start of the decade. It almost feels like what happened to the railways when branch lines were closed in that when you withdraw one service, it affects others and the downward spiral in service availability and frequency then gets trapped in a vicious circle. For that reason, I do not trust bus services as much as I once so rail travel becomes my choice so long as nothing else affects that.

Even London has not escaped the pattern of falling bus use and network cuts are coming there too though the introduction of Crossrail surely must have an impact as much as the reinstatement of the railway between Edinburgh and Tweedbank had on local bus services. However, commuting and shopping have been sources of demand for bus travel and both are declining with online shopping being to the detriment of retail precincts everywhere. London apparently was unaffected for a long time but even it cannot stay that way.

Any trouble with public transport not only cuts off those who cannot drive but also increases traffic and this also has a knock-on effect on bus service reliability to the point that you wonder if buses need their own dedicated trackways like what has been tried in Edinburgh, Manchester and Cambridge. It all points to poor oversight of and commitment to public transport on the part of a distracted government so change is needed. Trams have escaped my mention here and they remain popular but it is what has happened to bus and train services that highlights the greatest need of attention.

It is little wonder then that nationalisation has reappeared as a proposal though it cannot solve problems on its own and there also is the option of moving to a concession model for public transport with the idea of competition dispatched in favour of integration and usability. That is how it feels in Sweden so the idea might have a future here is it was given a chance. Anything has to be better than the current unstable state of affairs.

Sampling more of the Irish bus network

Posted on September 2, 2018

Because it is my place of birth and upbringing, my experience of using Ireland’s bus system extends over decades. Even so, it only was during my university years that I started to make use of scheduled bus and coach services like the weekend ones on which I acted as fare collector while at university in Cork. There were occasional journeys on Bus Éireann’s route 51 between Charleville and Cork too but it was while I was in Edinburgh that I made more use of buses. Flights to and from Dublin had me travelling between the city’s airport and Heuston train station by one or more buses. That trend continued throughout the first decade of living in Macclesfield.

Within the last decade, family and business matters saw me change to flying in and out of Shannon and Cork instead since it shortened travel times within Ireland. Service 51, noticeably more regular than during my university days in Cork, became a mainstay since it calls at Shannon, Limerick, Charleville on its journeys between Galway and Cork. Other services feature too like services 13 and 14 from Limerick to Newcastlewest or services 226 and 226A between Cork’s airport and its city centre. Service 226 even allowed a quick visit to Kinsale one day that I had time for it; sadly, the day itself was not sunny with grey clouds filling overhead skies and some rain but it was a good thing to do regardless of the weather.

What has inspired this post though is a recent stay in Galway that allowed me to explore Connemara, the Aran Islands and the Clare coastline around Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher. This escapade added more bus routes to my tally with route 923 operated by Irish Citylink from Galway and Clifden numbering among them. The rest were operated by Bus Éireann and my journeys included Expressway service 64 between Knock Airport and Galway, service 350 between Galway, Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher, service 419 between Galway and Maam Cross as well as service 424 between Galway and Rossaveal. Of these, I only mentioned the sections on which I travelled for route 64 goes between Galway and Derry, route 350 goes between Galway and Ennis, route 419 goes between Galway and Clifden and route 424 goes between Galway and Carraroe. All of these got me where I wanted to be though there were delays to my journeys from Knock Airport to Galway and from Oughterard to Galway, they were not in any way critical.

My general experience of the Irish bus network is that services largely run on time and that any buses are comfortable for travelling. For the latter, it helps that coaches are used on many interurban routes even if the practice adds accessibility constraints though wheelchair lifts are available on most if not all vehicles. Delays caused by slow-moving vehicles like tractors are receding and you never can do anything to avoid a passenger falling ill aboard a bus.

What was problematic was finding out about what bus services. While this was easier for Bus Éireann services, private operator offerings proved more challenging to find unless you learned of their existence either by word of mouth or by seeing their vehicles on the road. Some remained obscure such as those of the now-defunct Swilly but such a thing is not so easy now following the actions of Transport for Ireland . For a start, all bus services are to be numbered but the real bonus is that is a journey finder with timetable information. The latter can be accessed by other services too and the Bus Times website is one of those. There is a lot to be said for drilling into an area to find what services are available at a specific location and it proved invaluable for my recent Irish trip. As long as there is the continued availability of such information, planning of any future Irish hill wandering trips becomes that bit easier and it also helps that the Irish bus network does not alter as rapidly as its British counterparts and that it appears to be efficient too.

Recent Snippets

12:25, January 26, 2023

For those wanting to get to Canadian Provincial and National Parks without using a car, Parkbus offers some useful travel options from Toronto and Vancouver. These do vary by season, but the destinations include Golden Ears, Garibaldi Provincial Park and Joffre Lakes Provincial Park in British Columbia while those in Ontario include Algonquin Provincial Park, Bruce Peninsula National Park, Georgian Bay Islands National Park, Elora Gorge, Rockwood Conservation Area, Rattlesnake Point and Crawford Lake.

20:04, January 22, 2023

Moraine Lake and Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada have been suffering under their popularity. Now, Parks Canada has banned the use of private vehicles on the approach to Moraine Lake year round. That may sound heavy, but oversubscribed car parks meant that the excursion was not such a viable one anyway. It means that human-powered travel as well as usage of shuttle, chartered or scheduled bus services are favoured. The move has attracted criticism, so we will need to see if that brings change.

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