Thursday, 14 December 2017

Back To The Future 1

L N W R Reborn? Not Really!
The pre-grouping railways of the UK were famous for their style, their quality and their desire to impress. The poster above was displayed in America, encouraging their trans-Atlantic traveller to take the luxury route o London.

The company was formed on 16 July 1846 by the amalgamation of the Grand Junction Railway, London and Birmingham Railway and the Manchester and Birmingham Railway. This move was prompted in part by the Great Western Railway's plans for a railway north from Oxford to Birmingham.

LNWR called itself "The Premier Line" 

This was justified as it included the pioneering Liverpool & Manchester Railway of 1830, and the original LNWR main line linking London, Birmingham and Lancashire had been the first big railway in Britain, opened throughout in 1838. As the largest joint stock company in the United Kingdom, it collected a greater revenue than any other railway company of its era.

It certainly exuded quality ...
... and kept its trains (particularly its expresses) in top condition.
A Directors' saloon coach is preserved on the Bluebell Railway.
Despite its self proclaimed "Premier" status, the company never seemed to have the "cachet" of the Midland Railway which it eventually joined in the 1923 "grouping" to form the L M S.

The London Midland and Scottish Railway adopted the maroon colours of the Midland ...
... for some of its top link express locomotives.

Under privatisation the former L M S outer-suburban services out of London Euston became the oddly named Silverlink ...
... owned by the National Express group. Services in the Birmingham area became Central Trains ...
... also a National Express company but with a wider network than just the Birmingham area.

Then we had a rejig of the franchise areas and the London outer suburban stuff was glued to the Birmingham area to become London Midland, run by GoAhead.
Rail enthusiasts hearts were gladdened when Keith Ludeman ...
... then big boss of GoAhead announced that the new franchise would seek to offer the quality and reliability of the old L M S. He also hinted that maroon would be the main colour the London Midland's new livery ...
... just like the good old days.

It never happened. Green, black and grey adorned all suburban trains out of Euston and all local services in the West Midlands. These colours also appeared on the Parry "People Mover" buggies running between Stourbridge Junction and Stourbridge Town.
So it was that the two companies under the first blast of privatisation became one.

Of course we all know what happened last Sunday, don't we? The new franchise holder for the London Midland company would be known as West Midlands Trains.

It is owned by rail operators Abellio (Dutch State Railways) ... 
... and J R East (operators of many lines in Japan including Shinkansen expresses).
Also in the mix is Japan's Mitsui Group which is a huge international conglomerate centred round "big" engineering.
Bur here's a funny thing.

West Midlands Trains will operate its franchise in two lumps; West Midlands Railway and London North Western. Or, to put it another way, Birmingham services are to be separated from the London outer suburban routes.

Back to the Future indeed!

We will explore further tomorrow.
    ADVENT CALENDAR - 14     

The story is so familiar; Shepherds meet angels, leave their flocks and go down to the village to see the baby Jesus.


They didn't take  lamb to "give" to the baby. 

What can I give him, poor as I am? 
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; 
yet what I can I give him: give my heart. 

Christina Rossetti (authoress of  "In The Bleak Midwinter") implies that they did.

Well the Biblical shepherds didn't. Luke explains their abandonment of their flocks in very simple words.

The shepherds said to one another, “Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and saw the baby lying in the manger. When the shepherds saw him, they told them what the angel had said about the child.

We keep coming across those pesky angels! Tomorrow we try to make sense of the super-natural encounter.
 Next WM Trains blog : Friday 15th December 

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Christmas - Is This The Way To Do It?

Is It Only A Year Ago?
fbb wrote a blog in which he compared Seasonal bus provision in Bristol with the Festive Flop that is Sheffield. Here are a few extracts from that year-old posting, praising developments in Bristol..
One good house point.
A near normal service with some judicious pruning as thee evening wore on. Another good house point.
Not bad at all (and much better than most) but not as good as, say, London. But another good house point.

For those that would like to read about the full comparison, the blog itself is (here).

Roll forward to 2017 and ...

Sunday 24th Dec Christmas Eve
Normal Sunday timetable will operate from the start of service,


however... The last departures will be from around 6pm, with no services operating after approximately 7.30pm ...

Ever heard of the 24 hour clock?
It is used in all other publicity!

... (except Airport Flyer Services A1 and A3 which operate a normal service). Click here for a list of last departures

Nope. Its a backward step and a festive raspberry!

Tuesday 26th Dec Boxing Day

Special timetables will operate on a number of services in and around Bristol, click here for more details. Sunday timetables will operate on Airport Flyer Services A1 and A3. There will be no services operating elsewhere on the West of England network.

And the list of these services? There isn't one as far as fbb can tell. You must scroll through the PDF pages in the leaflet ...
... and see what is one offer.
But there is a positive on New Year's Eve.

Sunday 31st Dec New Year's Eve
Normal Sunday timetable will operate.

So in Bristol, NO early shut down on 31st. Even better, many night buses will run; here are some of the last "night" (i.e. early on 1st January) journeys on offer.
Thus it is that you can have a party at the pub on New Year's Eve, but you have to stay in on Christmas Eve.

But why withdraw the evening service on 24th after only one year?

The word on the Bristol streets is that they didn't carry enough passengers. Possibly true, but as 2016 was the first year for many an aeon that such a service was on offer, the take-up would surely need time to grow. But once established, surely a Christmas Eve evening service should attract more punters?

Bus industry short-termism strikes again?

And, is the "booklet" available in printed form? Our Bristol correspondent will doubtless let us know.

Just for the record, whilst Sheffield has selected services running until about 1800 on Boxing Day and fewer such on new Year's Day, everything finishes between 1700 and 1830 on the two "eves". There are no Boxing Day and New Year's Day services anywhere else in the whole of South Yorkshire with some notable exceptions in Barnsley (of which more later).

Bristol has gone backwards in many ways, but it is still far, far better than Sheffield, and ever farther better than Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham.

Why the difference?

Over the border in West Yorkshire ...
... you can download a summary leaflet (so presumably not available in print!) which offers all the usual reductions.
But there are no details - for these you are obliged to search and download. No paper copies?
But this time we have an index ...
... to go with the timetables.
But despite the plenty of buses on Boxing Day, there is a paucity on New Year's Day.
And the voluntary services?
Just two!

O.K., a reasonable service on Boxing Day and (almost) nothing on New Year's Day with (fbb assumes until informed otherwise) no printed material at all.

Not good.
So they arrive at Bethlehem and we are immediately on familiar territory. The innkeeper has pity on the pregnant Mary and allows her to use his stable or cattle shed. Baby Jesus has "no crib for a bed" and gets plonked in a manger - an animal's feeding trough.
The rest of the detail goes to make up innumerable Nativity scenes and innumerable nativity plays which are all part of the "Christmas Story".

Except that most of it has been added in - without the slightest whiff of evidence.


The Innkeeper is not mentioned. It is very likely that there was an innkeeper but his part in the story remains an assumption..

She was pregnant, and while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have her baby. She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger - there was no room for them to stay in the inn.


The cattle shed/stable is not mentioned.

In about 150 AD, a high flyer in religious circles named St Justin Martyr wrote about the Nativity.

But when the Child was born in Bethlehem, since Joseph could not find a lodging in that village, he took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed Him in a manger.

Today you can still see caves in and around Bethlehem. Some of them are turned into shrines but some remain in their original usage. It is where the animals are kept in the winter.
And while we are looking at Luke's actual words as they describe the nativity scene, please note ...


... there was no star, no animals, no wise men and no angels.

We have seriously damaged the Nativity story by adding in so much irrelevant clutter. What matters, what Luke records, what Justin Martyr records was beautiful in its magnificence; just a man, his unmarried pregnant wife, later with child, in a gloomy cave behind the pub with that not very clean feeding trough in which The Son of God was laid.
Nothing else happens until some smelly, scruffy and rough-mannered shepherds turn up.

Not a very auspicious start to a major world religion? But most Carols get it right:-

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven
No ear may hear His coming
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive him, still
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
 Next "no idea yet" blog : Thursday 14th December 

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Christmas - That's The Way To Do It!


One of the mysteries of "Festive" Public Passenger Transport in the UK is its lack of any logic. Why, you must ask, are there hardly any buses on New Year's Day, but a reasonably good train service? Turn the modes round and London has a good Boxing Day bus service but no National Rail.

If the decision is made on the basis of revenue and profitability, one of the parties has got it badly wrong in each case. fbb reckons that the underlying reasons are (a) what we have always done and (b) it's all too much trouble anyway.

Perhaps those who wish to jump to the defence of hard working drivers who need a break, or hard working schedulers who have insufficient time to draw up special services, or the dead hand of the Rail Regulator etc. etc. should hold back their comments until your chubby author has completed this pre-festive series of posts?

There is a second aspect to the "problem" of Christmas and the New Year. It is all very well running special bus services, finishing early etc. etc, but how well is the travelling public informed of the arrangements.
But before we look in detail, a further comment on the curse of the snowfall from 0930 yesterday morning.

Wednesbury Bus Station and Bearwood Bus Station are unable to be served by all routes. 

Whatever happened to the bus station inspector with a shovel and a sack of grit/salt? Or is it a case of "It's not my responsibility, mate? Bus stations are run by the PTE"
the shovel's just a prop -
snow clearing is contracted out

And from Travel for West Midlands, the new name for Network West Midlands, itself the new name for Centro - i.e. West Midlands PTE:-

All services are having difficulty accessing West Bromwich and Wednesbury bus stations. Our teams are working to clear these sites. Contractors have been asked to attend Park and Ride sites. Please take extra care until the sites have been cleared. 

The first "good thing" no note is that National Express West Midlands has a massive clickable banner shouting loudly that "things" will be happening. Sadly, on fbb's laptop, its is one of the those infuriating sliding panels that whizz off left just as you are about to click on it.

What is wrong with a fixed list of clickable "headlines"? Sorry, fbb forgot. A web site has to be full of twiddly bits to show off the "skills" of the site's designers and ensure thy can charge pots of money for doing it. Don't worry about making things complicated for the user!

But clicking on the panel leads to this:-

We will be running the following levels of service over the Christmas and New Year holidays. This page will be regularly updated with more information and revised timetables.

Sunday 24th December - normal Sunday daytime & evening service until approximately 2300 - full timetable details here

Monday 25th December - no service 

Tuesday 26th December - a Sunday service will run until around 6pm on all services except the 35 and 77 in Walsall, 62 in Wolverhampton and 1, 27 and 96 in Birmingham which will not run. Certain busy routes will continue to operate throughout the evening - full timetable details here.

Wednesday 27th to Friday 29th December -  a Saturday service will run with additional early morning journeys on certain route - full details will be available shortly. 

Saturday 30th December - normal Saturday service

Sunday 31st December - normal Sunday daytime & evening service. 

Monday 1st January 2018 - as for Monday 26th December - full timetable details here.

When fbb looked on Sunday afternoon, there they were - all the timetables for all to see.

Sadly when you eager author sought to download some examples yesterday 1030, all he could get was this:-
And it was all going so very well! Drat that wrong kind of snow - it even gets into our computers! (?)

Try again later.

Yep. All is well. Here is the Christmas Eve schedule from the Sutton Coldfield hinterland into Birmingham.
Ditto New Year's Eve.

And here is the same service on Boxing Day ...
... actually running a tad later. And at normal fares, too.

This pattern is replicated throughout the National Express network. You have to ask the question (and fbb is sure that his correspondents will rush to reply), "Is this generous provision just because Birmingham is a bigger place? Or it that Birmingham City Corporation Buses ...
... always ran a good "festive" service and their successors have never felt the necessity to change the policy. The passengers have become used to a proper service and therefore use it! 

How does Brum compare with Manchester? There was a panel headed "Whats Happening at Christmas" but ...

What’s happening

The transport network is expected to be busier than usual over the Christmas period as there are a number of festive events across Manchester. Journey times are likely to increase during the run up to New Year, so you should plan ahead if you are taking part in, spectating or simply travelling around the local area.

Manchester Christmas Light Switch On takes place on Saturday 4 November. Stars on the night include DJ Sigala**, boy band Yes Lad and the casts of the musicals Elf and Shrek.
The event starts at 7.30pm but the event is always busy so make sure to get there early. Bag checks will be in operation so please if at all possible, leave them at home.

Manchester’s iconic Christmas Markets return on Friday 10 November until Thursday 21 December. They take place across the city centre and again bag checks will be in operation.

Manchester City Council has more information about the markets and the Light Switch On on their website.

Manchester Arndale is open seven days a week in the run up till Christmas. You can find more information on their opening times on their website.

... it did not tell you what was happening bus-wise. fbb did find a document from Transport for Greater Manchester ...
... dated from November, which gave a summary.
The bus operators have given details of what they are doing. First Bus has simply published a set of "forthcoming timetables" on line.
So here is the prestigious and highly successful guided busway service on Christmas Eve.
And, similarly, on Boxing Day when it is one of a few services operating until early evening.
Here is the lavish selection:-

The following services will run to special timetables:
Metroshuttle, V1, V2, 8, 17, 36, 37, 68, 81, 93, 100,
135, 163, 184, 409, 471 and 582.
No other services will be operating.

So what's Birmingham got that Manchester hasn't?

One more pressing problem which fbb cannot answer.

In Birmingham and Manchester, what printed publicity for these services will be available?

** D J Sigala??? No, neither did fbb!
The King James version of the Bible (The "Authorised" Version) was a huge scholastic "tour de force" and many people still derive great spiritual strength from its mellifluous language.
Matthew begins his Gospel with a genealogy of Jesus but the language brings a wince or a smile to modern readers - with all that begatting.

Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob;
and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren;
And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar;
and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram;
And Aram begat Aminadab;
and Aminadab begat Naasson;
and Naasson begat Salmon;
And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab;
and Booz begat Obed of Ruth;
and Obed begat Jesse;
And Jesse begat David the king;
and David the king begat Solomon;

quite a bit missed out!

And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary,
of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

Matthew is anxious to show that, by human standards at least, Jesus is a descendant of King David and before that from the family of Abraham, the "father" of the Jewish race.

Luke also has a genealogy in his Gospel but they are different. Bible knockers jump onto the is difference and say that the Bible must be wrong. Realistically both versions are a guess in places because birth records simply did not exist. The writers have gone to the Old Testament of our Bible and added in Rabbinic traditions to piece together a viable family tree.

It all fits together, as recorded in "While Shepherds Watched ..."

To you in David's
Town this day
Is born of David's line
The Savior who is Christ the Lord
And this shall be the sign
And this shall be the sign.

The heavenly Babe
You there shall find
To human view displayed
And meanly wrapped
In swathing bands
And in a manger laid
And in a manger laid.

Odd isn't it? When else do we use the word "manger"?
Even cartoons find room for the non-existent donkey!
 Next Seasonal Service blog : Wednesday 13th December