Monday, 24 November 2014

Red Arrows Reach All-over [1]

Even in Dubai!
And many of us will remember the first omnibological manifestation thereof. As part of a grand plan to reshape London's buses (i.e. stem the seemingly inevitable tide of decline and loss) there was to be a network of longer distance "big bus" routes, supplemented by local frequent shuttle type services operated with "standee" single decks with flat fares.

In central London there would be a host of "Red Arrows" of which the experimental first was the 500. Operated by Merlins (which everyone else called "Swifts"), this ran from Victoria to Marble Arch at Monday to Friday peak times.
The fare was 6d (2½p) ...
... paid into a turnstile. When first introduce from 18th April 1966, buses ran from Victoria in the morning peak, returning "light"; evening peak, out "light" and back in service. Off peak (as in the above picture) the service ran to and from Oxford Street for shoppers. fbb remembers taking a day trip from Northampton especially to experience this revolutionary novelty.

The route became more "normal" in due course and lost its turnstiles.
The 500 expired on 12th August 1988, being replaced by a revised 73. Thanks to Ian Armstrong's London Bus Routes site for filling fbb's extensive memory gaps.

Other Red Arrows were developed from 1968 until a sizeable network was operated.
Leyland Nationals begat Leyland Greenways begat bendibuses. The network eventually declined to just two routes; today's 507 (all week) Waterloo to Victoria ...
panel timetable from 2002

today's (similar) timetable extract

... and 521(Monday to Friday only)  Waterloo to London Bridge.
panel timetable from 2002

today's (simpler) timetable

After Boris the Blue's highly illogical anti-bendy campaign, these were replaced by "normal" Mercedes single deckers and ...
... the Red Arrow brand quietly vanished.

The shortest-lived and shortest distance Red Arrow was the 511 from Victoria Station to Victoria Coach Station. It ran from 1st July to 7th October 1972. The route number was later reused for a service from Victoria to Waterloo. Various operators have had a go at linking the coach and rail stations but no service has been sustainable.

This was a report in "Commercial Motor" magazine in March 1967:-

London Transport this week out lined its proposals for the first of the suburban "satellite" schemes under its big plan for reshaping the central (red) bus services. Stage one of the Wood Green scheme is planned for introduction towards the end of this year. It will bring about major changes to bus services in the area, which is served by two tube stations on the Piccadilly Line  (Wood Green and Turnpike Lane) linked by Wood Green High Road with its busy shopping district. LT plans to bring in four flat-fare routes operated by single-deck buses with coin-operated entrance gates.

But it was in September 1968 that the flat fare standee services was introduced based (loosely) on Wood Green Underground station. W1, W2, W3, W4, W5 and W6 all replaced or enhanced local routes.

The seasoned view is that the "reshaping" model was not successful. We Brits simply don't like "standee" public transport; the turnstiles didn't work very well and here were hold-ups. Passengers did not like changing because, as well as the inconvenience, it was perceived that journey times were longer.

It is no surprise, then, that of these only W3 (now double deck) ...
... and W4 ...
... remain serving the erstwhile hub at Wood Green.
First it was LT shooting the red arrows, then came Trent.

 Next bus blog : Tuesday 25th November 

Sunday, 23 November 2014

On Trac at Thorncombe [1]

Where?
Thorncombe is a small out-of-the-way village in Dorset with its nearest station being historically the now-closed Chard Junction ...
... but now part way between Axminster and Crewkerne.

Getting there by bus is not easy! And no use for a Wesdnesday club meeting ...
... and nowhere much to stay overnight even if you did! It does have a surprising lavish shelter, should you need to wait a week for your return journey.
The village is quaint with an attractive church ...
... and a good old fashioned direction finger post ...
... which leads to the splendid village hall.
It was here, last Wednesday, that fbb was well and truly on trac!
About 40 mainly mature mainly male meet once a month to listen to talks, watch films etc. on a wide variety of railway matters. Two visitors had trekked all the way from Weymouth.  fbb enjoyed a very through illustrated talk ...
... from Colin Brading; up to the high standards expected. That was after the usual battle with the Microslop Windslow confuser.
It seemed to be something to do with passwords. Why do people bother with a password on a computer that only they and close family will use?

Before fbb set off on a wet and windy drive to Thorncombe, Mrs fbb had asked "what sort of meeting is it?" fbb riposted that he had no idea, but if the speaker mentioned Fowlers Ghost ...
... he would obviously know his stuff. He did and he did!
There was tea, prepared by ladies. (As is well known, male railway enthusiasts are incapable of making tea!) There was cake ditto. Cake plus cuppa £1. There was a raffle but fbb did not partake.
There was a box of old books for sale and fbb did partake ...
... and there was a library of DVDs which members could borrow. fbb was politely warned that he could not borrow as he was not a member. (Ooo-er!). Which was a slight snag with Trac's financial filosophy. Membership starts in January and is at a bargain price of £10 per annum. Visitors are charged £3 a meeting. So paying 66.6 (recurring) percent of the annual fee for November and December meetings seemed poor value. In the end fbb negotiated £3 for the two meetings!

During the tea break, your chubby blogger had the opportunity to meet the club's most frequent attender ...
... and fierce guardian of the second hand books box! fbb did not catch the name but "Fido" did not seem as interested in the Metropolitan Railway as was fbb.

Trac also organises an annual model railway exhibition which fbb was unable to attend due to a family visit. But the layouts on show are of high quality; very enterprising for a small club in a rural location.
Should you be in the area on a meeting day, you would, fbb is sure, be most welcome. Combine the evening with a daytime visit to Forde Abbey (April to October) and/or Buffers model shop; both of which are nearby. Web sites as follows:-

Trac (here)

Forde Abbey (here)

Buffers (here)

But, overall, a spiffingly good evening despite a touch of Devon and Dorset monsoon mixed with foggy patches. fbb recommends that visitors "case the joint" during daylight if they want to find it. Maybe SatNav would also do the trick.
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Elder grandson busking (with official permit!) in Oxford yesterday.
Bowler supplied by fbb's No 1 son.
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 Next bus blog : Monday 24th November 

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Split Tickets Part Three

Or Even Four!
A blog comment writer suggested this site as a "better" and "more useful" way of benefiting from splitting our rail journey into separate chunks. Those considering this idea MUST be aware that it can add extra restrictions and complications to your journey and is not recommended for the inexperienced. The two sites so far tested (TicketySplit and Split Your Ticket) are simply not good enough.

A recent fbb journey was from Axminster to Reading on a Saturday. TicketySplit only does singles so offered a fare nearly twice as much as the saver return. SplitYourTicket told fbb that the journey was too short. Split Ticketing gave the fare which fbb paid which was £27.05 saver return. All fares quoted here are for travel using a senior railcard.
BUT when your intrepid investigator looked for an earlier train, the program gave a different answer.
Where did the £2 saving come from. Answer; the system strung together three DAY returns.
Such a ruse is perfectly OK provided that trains in both directions stop at the designated stations; which, in this case, they do. But here's the beef. Day returns are available by any train on a Saturday, so why the difference? Dunno; but it does not inspire confidence in the system.

For fbb's recent Axminster to Truro run early on a Tuesday, the system correctly offered peak travel to the point at which peak restrictions ceased and thus saved much fine gold.
Neither of the previous two systems tried could find this.

What about Aminster to Sheffield?
Here the offer is a string of six assorted tickets totalling £81.45. What, thought fbb. would it offer via London. Well, it didn't. To get a "via London" fare (arguably the best way to go anyway) you had to click on "advanced options". And here was a big surprise. Your were passed on to a FOURTH site ...
... associated with the RailEasy ticket selling site.

Raileasy's smart booking engine will always default to cheap rail tickets; the cheapest available at the time so you do not have to route (sic! they mean "root" : literacy is not a requirement for their web designers.) around to find a good deal! We do the hard work for when searching for cheap rail tickets. (so does every other ticket retailing site!)
TrainSplit.com offered only the usual super saver at £85.80. The only restriction for fbb on the route via London is that you have to go early enough to avoid a peak hour super saver ban out of St Pancras (Monday to Friday).

Now the decision a user has to take is simple. 

Do you want to go via Bristol, save £4.35 and have to use the same route back OR, pay the super saver rate and travel via Bristol or via London as the spirit moves? Would you be confident that your return train stopped at all the right stations? What if you made a mistake?

One final test. Axminster to London at peak times. You may remember that SplitYourTicket, although resolutely refusing any offers on MOST of fbb's enquiries did offer a stunning bargain here.
But, we may remember, these were all out-of-date fares.

Interestingly (worryingly) SplitTicketing came up with different answers. This for a return after 1600 ...
... and this for a return one hour later and more into the peak.
Cheaper by over £10 for "more peak" journey. Try to explain all that to a "normal" passenger!

If it's right.

Without going into the complex detail, it is clear (really?) that savings via split ticketing in general add restriction, tension and, dangerously, extra expense IF you make even the smallest error; or, heaven forfend, if a train misses its connection. It is very easy to be stuck with an invalid ticket. If you are prepared to take those extra risks and restrictions then, for the moment, this SplitTicketing site is better then the other two (TicketySplit and SplitYourTicket) which should be disposed of in the great electronic waste bucket in the sky.

What is really crazy is that TicketySplit is being promoted by MoneySavingExpert.com when it rarely saves you money,

Maybe it is best to take heed of this heading on the SplitTicketing site.

Anyway, fbb's brain is now hurting badly, so a strong coffee is needed before proceeding with the rest of his day.

Number four (TrainSplit.com) needs a further look.

But later!

Just a snippet of nostalgia. A teenage fbb used to travel regularly by bus from Northampton to Little Billing turn. Fare tables were never published by United Counties, but fbb got hold of one from an employee. He discovered that he could save tuppence (less than 1p) by rebooking at Weston Favell The Trumpet (just below "Hospl" on the map.
So one day he tried it. Suffice it to say that the conductor's reaction was vehement with antagonistic and aggressive asperity. fbb never tried again. He was too frit! With today's coarse and steeply "tapered" fare scales, it is unlikely that Bustticketsplit would ever deliver a bonus.

Unless anyone out there knows any better?

 Next rail blog : Sunday 23rd November 

Friday, 21 November 2014

Stagecoach are Bettering Buses to Kettering [4]

And on to Market Harborough.
Around 1570, Robert Smith (or Smyth?), from the town, walked to London. By 1598, he had become comptroller of the City of London. In 1607 he founded Market Harborough Grammar School. The building still exists in the Market Place. For the first 150 years, it was only open to boys who were of the Anglican faith.

From an omnibological point of view, Market Harborough was a boundary town. Midland Red (later Midland Fox, now Arriva) approached from Leicester. Another bit of Midland Red arrived from Rugby and United Counties rumbled in from Northampton, Kettering and Corby. Things are very different now:-
The 43 is a variant of the X43; the 77 ditto of the X7. Rural Riders are occasional days only routes.
It is what remains of the United Counties "network" that is the interest of this blog. The X7 has been doubled in frequency between Northampton, Market Harborough and Kibworth.
This odd destination, part way to Leicester, mystified Northamptonian bus watchers; but the Stagecoach web site reveals all (nearly all). The magic words "Section 106 funding" are quoted. This is a scheme whereby local authorities and/or developers sling money at bus companies to ensure a good "start-up" service for the folk who buy their houses. Explained at last, perhaps, by a big development at Kibworth Meadows?
Good bus territory at Kibworth Meadows?

The other remaining United Counties route offered just six journeys a day Monday to Friday between Kettering and Market Harborough in 1952 (service 9).
Intriguingly there were twice as many journeys on Saturdays when all good housewives would trek to their local market for bargains, fresh produce and a cheap lunch! On Sunday afternoons, through until 2200, the service was hourly. How times have changed, eh?

In the renumbering it became 259 but by the time of the Great Britain Bus Timetable (e.g. year 2000) it was a 19, offering much the same level of service Monday to Friday ...
... but with no Saturday enhancement. On Sunday you had three tendered journeys.

Yet again, Stagecoach developed the route until it became an hourly service 18 Monday to Saturday (only) as reported yesterday.
Like the 18, the replacement X43 serves the Cromwell Crescent estate in Market Harborough ...
... on a double run from the bus station.
Did this area once have the more prosaic name of "Southern Estate"?

Bus Station? Did fbb write "bus station"? There used to be one, with proper, if rudimentary, departure stands.
The equivalent stop, outside the Market Hall, is spartan by comparison. Two shelters and a couple of stop poles?
This exuberant facility is on the fringes of the town centre. The X7 to Leicester, for example, stops at the much more useful High Street.
So the 18 becomes an X43 and is extended fast (less slow?) to Northampton. Whilst residents of Market Harborough would use the X7, the new link gives the good folk of Braybrook, Desborough and Rothwell their first-ever through bus link to the retail fleshpots of central Northampton. Only time will tell if this facility proves attractive to the customers.
P.S. re: Southern Estate.

A new Southern Estate was planned to accommodate 700 dwellings, shopping centre, school and recreation ground. The Council laid initial access roads named after personalities of the Battle of Naseby since these fields were crossed by both armies on 14 June 1645. A plaque now records the events and was unveiled by Mrs H.B. Lenthall on 1 February 1951 to mark the opening of the Estate development. Around 150 dwellings were built for rent with the remaining plots available for private building. The final phase of development occurred in the 1980s. 

fbb's memory ain't that bad after all!
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A Sheffield Correspondent
in Kettering writes:-

"All Stagecoach timetable leaflets for Kettering are also available on a self-service basis from racks inside the Stagecoach Depot which is about half way between the Railway  Station and the Town Centre stops. There is also a window where you can ring a bell for attention between certain times to speak to a human. There is a "safe route" round the depot to this facility."
follow the green brick road (centre right)
for secret Stagecoach timetables?

"BUT, of course, THE PUBLIC WILL NOT BE AWARE OF THIS. It is only the curious, informed, enthusiasts and people like me (which category am I?) who will know they can obtain information there. I was in Kettering at about 1700 on Wednesday, en route back from Corby and collected publicity for the changes."


Thank you John H.
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 Next split ticket blog : Saturday 22nd November