Monday, 3 August 2015

Collusion or Confusion in Plymouth [1]

What's Going On?
D Rumsfeld, noted Plymouth bus enthusiast

"There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."

One known known is that First Bus ...
... have sold heir Plymouth business to Stagecoach.
Another known know is what Stagecoach have registered to operate from 6th September; and this is substantially less that the withdrawn First Bus network.

Things that we know that we didn't know is how Plymouth Citybus ...
... would react to this situation. But a recent article in the local rag dangles some tempting clues.
31 brand new buses for Plymouth
as some services are cut
and others increase

fbb quotes a few snippets here and will adumbrate later.

Plymouth is to get 31 brand new buses in a £5million investment by Citybus as a number of bus services are withdrawn and others are increased. The investment comes as the company revises its network to meet changing needs within the Plymouth bus market. The new buses (yellow under the brand of YellowFlash) are being introduced in September on route 50.
From September 20 bus passengers on the Redflash Service 21/21A will see the frequency on the route, which includes Plympton and St Budeaux increase to up to every 7 minutes, from the current 10.

From this date there will also be in increase in direct bus services between the city centre and Derriford Hospital, increasing from up to every 15 minutes to up to every 10 minutes, with a service up to every 30 minutes continuing to provide a service to Woolwell. All direct buses from the city centre to Derriford Hospital will operate under the BlueFlash brand.
So far, so good. But then comes the mystery.

To enable the above changes reflecting passenger need services 4/4A and 45 will be withdrawn from service, along with service 42 finishing at Derriford Hospital and not continuing onto Tavistock.

Services 4 and 4A run from City via Plymstock to Mount Batten.
Service 45 runs to Ivybridge and was set up as part of a competitive onslaught on and obviously ailing First Bus ...
... who then did a bit of towel on-throwing and withdrew their similar route 88.

Likwise, Citybus started a route to Tavistock, again to compete with First.
A lot of effort went into promoting the competitive service.

Back to the Citybus news as reported.
Richard Stevens, Managing Director at Plymouth Citybus, said: "I would like to thank our loyal passengers for their continued support and our staff that make the service run day in day out."

A quick look at what First ran (correction : runs until 6th September) and what Stagecoach has not decided to run suggests that Citybus competition has hurt First to such an extent that Uncle Brian's minions see no value in competing.

First routes across the ferry to Torpoint (81 etc) ...

First at HMS Raleigh, Torpoint
... were shadowed by Plymouth's 32.

Citybus at HMS Raleigh, Torpoint
When fbb rode, passengers were sparse in the extreme - so no Stagecoach to Torpoint.

First sort of retaliated with "Purple" ...
... to Efford and a mega circular 3 via St Budeaux, ...
... again without whopping incumbent Citybus. Thus the wise wizards of Stagecoach steer clear and these services do not feature in the newcomer's new network notification.

But it's what lies behind the latest Citybus developments that might be described as "things we don't know we don't know"

It certainly looks a bit fishy; but readers should judge for themselves as we look at the detail tomorrow.

 Next collusion (?) blog : Tuesday 4th August 

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Ubiquitous! [3]

The Model GWR Autocoach

See also Ubiquitous [1] (read again) and Unbiquitous [2] (read again).

This particular coach, as well as being historically popular on God's Wonderful Railway and popular with present-day heritage lines, has also been a popular model. Whilst younger enthusiasts have sought big passenger locomotives (with unrealistically short trains!), aged modellers with limited space available have relished the delight of one little tank engine and its autocoach trundling along a miniature rural branch line.

The Hornby model (formerly produced by Airfix) offers a remarkably high standard of detail for its age. As well as the distinctive bell ...
... the model accurately reproduces the steps, provided for athletic passengers joining the trains at low-use halts with even lower platforms.
The distinctive elongated buffers are, erm, distinctive. The model coach also has a rudimentary interior ...
... which needs (and maybe one day will get) some painting to represent maroon seating plush and varnished oak.
And some curtains. Even the "lower orders" could enjoy luxury rail travel in those "good old days".

Hornby also produced the model in maroon and the railway technical departments red and blue.
Sadly, the real Test Car 1 was a modification of the later version of the autocoach.
A very attractive vehicle with its original GW bogies and long elegant buffers and it even had its warning bell. It carried maroon livery and the number W233W but was quickly re-numbered DW150375 and re-painted into red and blue.

It was temporarily equipped with a hand-cranked generator set to supply power for instrumentation (and the kettle) and became Test Car 1. Later a more permanent conversion was undertaken with a purpose-built generator room housing a diesel generator set. It was never altered inside apart from the creation of the generator room. The cooking facilities etc were within the main saloon. I don't think it even had a toilet but a chemical one was installed for emergencies.

Later it was equipped with B4 bogies and extended buffer mounts having Oleo pneumatic buffers fitted. No doubt safer and more efficient but this destroyed the vehicle's character.

No doubt the model sold well to those who liked the colours!

Correct models to the original design are (or were) available in many different gauges. Dapol offered a 2mm (N gauge) version:-
You could buy a 3mm kit (some ancient readers will remember Triang's TT range introduced in 1957).
Tower Models kits are available for Gauge O scale (7mm) ...
... and even larger in Gauge 1 scale (10mm approx).
Folk have even built short version to ride on, 7¼ inch gauge.
Needless to say, The Rev Awdry introduced "Isabel" in his Thomas books.
And yes, fbb bought the autocoach that (briefly) graced the shelves of his local model shop (£12 - bargain?). Now all he needs is a nice GWR tank locomotive to go with it. More pennies needed in the piggy bank!

If you are a real with-it modern 21st century model railway nutcase enthusiast, you can equip your choo choo with digital control so you can actually drive it realistically; and, of course, you need to add working lights and digital sound as well. Your choo choo will then choo choo in a rather surreal manner.
Maybe also apply for a second mortgage to pay for it?

And a brucie bonus. In Episode 1 of this mini-series, fbb waxed all nostalgical about his youthful trainspotting expeditions at Billing Crossing (read again). Kontributor Ken Traveline-Dorset is a member of Wimborne Railway Society.
Wimborne Railway Society meets every Thursday at the United Reform Church Hall, Chapel Lane, Wimborne, Dorset. We have a varied programme of slide, cine, and video shows interspersed with club nights where members can test their models on our test track, work on one of the layouts, read a book or magazine from our library, or have a chat with a like minded individual.

The club was bequeathed huge archive of railway and bus photos and kindly konsiderate Ken has sought out three snaps of the Wellingborough Rail Motor. These are big photos using oodles of memory but are worth broadcasting here in glorious full-size. Click on the pic for the biggie version.

Departing via the viaduct leading to
Wellingborough London Road

Arriving at Wellingborough Midland Road
with goods van attached at the back

Ready to depart with a different goods van
attached at the front - i.e. back

Thanks, Ken : delightful. fbb has no memory of ever spotting the Motor with goods van added.

 Next bus blog : Monday 3rd August 

Saturday, 1 August 2015

A Tour, A Tower and a Tunnel

A 35 Mile Bike Ride
But not recently! As teenagers fbb and a chum decided, in a fit of madness, to cycle from Little Billing (near Northampton) to Badby Woods (south of Daventry). At over 35 miles it was the longest trip by pedal power your blogger-to-be ever made. The chosen route passed through Charwelton where this mysterious erection was spotted.
It is a huge concrete tower in the middle of nowhere in particular. It looks better close up.
The youthful fbb called it the Byfield "Thing". In fact it was (and still is) part of a chain of microwave towers ostensibly built by Post Office Telephones (now privatised as BT) "for communications purposes." Those who like conspiracy theories etc. will know that these towers (others at Stokenchurch and Birmingham in addition to the Post Office Tower itself), are far in excess of what was needed for "normal" electronic traffic. There were, it is proposed, built to create a route hardened against all but direct nuclear attack to preserve the ability of a post-nuclear government to govern.

There was a station at Charwelton on the Great Central Railway ...
... a typical island platform job. The bridge seen here has been swept away by road improvements to the A361 but the side road bridge (behind he photographer) is still in place and we can look back towards the station site.
There was a railway there once; honest!

And a few hundred yards north of Charwelton station was (and is) Catesby Tunnel.
Catesby is a colossus, both in terms of length and gauge. Originally planned as a cutting, its existence is due entirely to the owner of the Catesby Estate ...

... who did not want unsightly trains blotting his landscape.

Its creation demanded round 290,000 cubic yards of mining. Work to sink the first shaft began on 18th February 1895 and the last length was keyed in on 22nd May 1897 - a remarkably quick average rate of 110 yards per month. Progress was greatly accelerated by the use of Ruston steam navvies (cranes).
But the long closed tunnel is back in the news.
Early plans have been revealed for a new wind tunnel to be built in the Daventry district to help test Formula One cars. In plans drawn up by Brackley-based firm Aero Research Partners, Catesby tunnel would be transformed to help in the testing of motor vehicles, including F1 cars.

The main director of Aero Research Partners is George Howard Chappell.
George Howard-Chappell, the motorsports engineer who masterminded British racing firm Prodrive's successes with Ferrari and Aston Martin against Corvette Racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, is leaving the organization. "I'm not leaving to go to another job, but I am looking for a new challenge for the future."

Some challenge. This picture shows, not sunlight, but a time lapse exposure of water cascading down one of the ventilation shafts. The tunnel is very wet and flooded in places.
The provisional plans could see cars being driven down the tunnel at high speed in order to monitor aerodynamic performance.

Rob Lewis, director at Aero Research Partners, said: “This is a project we have been working on for a number of years. With a tunnel this long, you have a consistent environment where you can fully test a range of motor vehicles. The Catesby Tunnel will not only more accurate, but also far more energy efficient than a conventional wind tunnel which uses vast amounts of electricity."
Plans also include a substantial business and technology park ...
... complete with its own restaurant!

Interviewed from beyond the grave, Sir Edward Watkin**, big cheese of the Great Central Railway, said, "Egad sir! Mechanical horses will never eclipse the might and efficiency of steam. When my railway is complete the good folk of this great land will be able to board a train in Birmingham and alight a few short hours later in Paris. My channel tunnel will be the wonder of the world. I have already asked Queen Victoria (God bless her!) to perform the opening ceremony. Racing horseless carriages through Catesby Tunnel - over my dead body!"

** Sir Edward William Watkin, 1st Baronet (26 September 1819 to 13 April 1901) was a British Member of Parliament and railway entrepreneur. He was an ambitious visionary, and presided over large-scale railway engineering projects to fulfil his business aspirations, eventually rising to become chairman of nine different British railway companies.

Among his more notable projects were his expansion of the Metropolitan Railway (part of today's London Underground network); the construction of the Great Central Main Line, a purpose-built high-speed railway line; and a failed attempt to dig a channel tunnel under the English Channel to connect his railway empire to the French rail network.

Our Northampton correspondent, who sent in the original press cutting which prompted this blog, will be poised to report on developments.

If any!

 Next blog (Ubiquitous 3) : Sunday 2nd August 

Friday, 31 July 2015

And That Other Journey Planner [3]

You'll Enjoy This, First Bus - Not a Lot!
See Yesterday's blog (read again).

Searching First Bus' journey planner [JP] for a journey from Watford Junction (Station) to Old Fort Road Shoreham Beach, we are offered THREE Watford Junctions.
fbb tried the first with a journey departure time of 1630; roughly when No 3 son tends to travel.
Back at the speed of a senior snail on a zimmer frame came the huge selection of answers ...
... with no journey at or after 1630.
Intrigued, fbb clicked on the answer panel (although nowhere are we offered this option) to view a detailed breakdown of the journey.

We begin by taking  724 to Heathrow ...
... then a couple of National Express coach routes to Brighton:-
Nowhere are we told that these services are book-ahead only. The grindingly tedious trip ends with the 700 to from  Brighton to Shoreham and the 19 to "The Beach".
Total journey time, four hours and 24 minutes. Might it not have been quicker by train? According to First Bus, there are no trains!

Undaunted, fbb tried the second Watford Junction, now with added "Dc".
Exactly the same silly answers appear but now with different departure and arrival times and an extra 2 minutes of journey time. Potty.

Attempt three uses "Watford Junction Railway Station" which is, as its name suggests, is the Bus Station. No matter; it gives the same results again.
Again, where are the trains?
Answer, First has pre-selected only "Walk" and "Bus" (which includes journeys that are not buses, e.g. by National Express). So, although here is no explanation to guide the frustrated traveller, we need to click on "All". Here we go again.

Oh no we don't.

[From] Sorry, we can't find that place,
did you type it in correctly?
Alternatively try the postcode.
If you need help contact us.

But the JP now cannot find Watford Junction Railway Station i.e. Bus Station. But the other Watford Junction does, AT LAST, give a rail answer.
The nearest to a 1630 departure offered is 0739. Potty and double potty.
It us not at all clear why you have to change at Haywards Heath as there are always through trains. But First's inherited creation then excels itself with the bus from Shoreham by Sea station to Old Fort Road on "The Beach".
What a spiffing wheeze. Catch a bus from (near) Shoreham Station to Old Fort Road; get off the 19 and catch bus 19 to Harbour Way then walk to Old Fort Road.

Potty and treble potty.

Or you could ask Traveline South-east.
Seemples. And this is he route used by No 3 son.

fbb wonders whether the First Bus techie people realise what drivel they promulgate. But then they probably drive flashy cars (if they are managers) or creaky bicycles (if they are computer nerds). From the evidence of their own JP, they certainly don't travel by public transport.

Answers from First Bus, please? Fat chance.

 Next tunnel  blog : Saturday 1st August