Saturday, 24 February 2018

Technology - Triumph or Trouble?

When fbb worked for a small but go-ahead bus group that became Go-Ahead, he was dispatched by his boss to Llandrindod Wells. It was not a punishment for poor performance, but a mistaken belief by said boss that the speakers at a conference would supply big bags of free money for some of "sir's" pet (but hitherto commercially unviable) seedcorn projects.

The conference was a waste of time; the funding schemes were aimed at local authorities not businesses but the weekend involved a pleasant hotel and a lovely outward train journey, change at Newport South Wales.

fbb's schedule was fine, but "main line" trains through Newport were in a pickle.
Of course, the station has been poshed-up since fbb's visit including a spectacular "futuristic" snail-like overbridge, equipped with a technologically advanced and very expensive leaking roof.
In the hour (approx) that fbb had to wait for his connection, he drew some amusement (and irritation) from the consequences of a reliance on technology.

Departure screens would show one platform and the train would arrive at another. Passengers would be harried from one to another by staff who had hitherto relied on the screens as their source of information. It was a shambles. Announcements were, of course, in English and Welsh, so by the time the tediously long announcement was over, the train would be signalled into a different platform and it all started  again.

It was jolly fun to watch, but far from jolly for passengers encumbered with luggage, children or arthritis.

So, this weekend, a few tales of amusing (?) technology at its best.

Vorsprung Durch Technik (Oder Nicht!)
Deutsche Bahn has recently (10th December 2017) opened a new chunk of high speed line on the route via Nünberg reducing the journey time from Berlin to just four hours. That is the equivalent of a trip from London to Perth (approx 6½ hours).

The spectacular engineering was described in an Article in the February edition of Modern Railways (go buy!).
Despite the universally held belief that, in Germany, anything on two rails always works "wie ein uhrwerk", Keith Fender ...
... the magazine's Europe correspondent reported a few "snags" when he took a trip soon after the opening. Trains were overfull, not running to time and generally "in  pickle". In a leader in the March edition (go buy!), Keith explains why. fbb has interpreted!

It is a bit technical but it goes like this. Trains were apparently just stopping in the middle of nowhere for no obvious reason and with no obvious mechanical failure.

It turns out that the people who program the on-board confuser had typed in some wrong numbers; notably the diameter or circumference of the trains' wheels. This figure allows the trains to work out how many times the wheel has turned and therefor to know how far it has gone.

A bit like a very sophisticate electronic "speedo" on a car.
But, because of the wrong input, the poor trains thought they were going faster than they should and had got to where they were too quickly (dangerously so - safety margins rule OK), so shut the trains down and stopped them.

Red faces and annoyed passengers by the bundle!

Snow In The Wrong Place
Level crossing can be controversial. Of course, they are perfectly safe if motorists follow the rules, obey the light or refrain from slalom-ing the falling barriers. Increasingly automatic barrier crossings are being equipped with "object detection".
These clever devices spot if any object is sitting on the rails and send a "stop" signal to the barriers which will not drop, and thus signals will not clear and trains cannot proceed.

Several news items have appeared in the press about one "object" which triggers the system,

Either the deep snow on the track is "seen" as a blockage, or snow builds up on the detector with the same result.

The solution seams to be to send a lad out with a shovel to remove the snow. One report concerning significant trains between Shrewsbury and Machynlleth was accompanied by an "official" statement.

"The detectors are working perfectly and we will not be changing the settings. Unfortunately the snow was so heavy we could not get staff out to undertake "remedial action".


New Station Opened - Bristol Area
Bristol correspondent Paul was wandering through the concourse at Bristol Parkway Station on Sunday last (as you do!) when he espied a screen for a train to this new, and previously unannounced station development.
The 1055 was running just three minutes late and would go forward to the brand new station at Train Splits Here. The front coaches would call at Filton Abbey Wood before reaching their newly opened "station stop". The rest of the train would,continue to the second "headline" station.
The bit for Taunton would consist of the "Rear 6 Coaches". Seems perfectly clear, except ...
... that the train only has six coaches! Paul waited and photographed page 3 of 3.
This completed the list of stops between Bristol Parkway and Taunton.

So, to summarise, the front coaches (unspecifed number of a six coach train) run to Filton Abbey Wood and Train Splits Here whilst the rear six coaches of a six coach train also call at Filton Abbey Wood, omit Train Splits Here and continue to Bristol Temple Meads and Taunton.

And here is the train as shown in the public timetable.
As far as can be gleaned it starts at Bristol Parkway and presumably splits into two, one invisible bit wafting enigmatically to a strange Harry Potter type destination, whilst the solid six coaches remaining behave quite normally and run to Taunton.
Paul listened attentively to the (automated!) announcement which offered it as the:-

1055 to Taunton, calling at Filton Abbey Wood and Bristol Temple Meads where the train divides, with the rear 6 coaches continuing to Bedminster, etc...

Almost correct, as the train only had 6 coaches to start with...!

Paul delved a little deeper and writes:-
Looking at "Real Time Trains", it looks as though the train did indeed split at Train Splits Here, (a temporary renaming of Bristol Temple Meads???) with the front 3 carriages leaving for Taunton at 1116, and the rear 3 heading off to the siding at 1119. 

But the screens and announcer at Bristol Parkway opted for a significantly different interpretation!

Brummy Buses Befuddle Keith
A correspondent in Birmingham was very bemused indeed by these displays at Sutton Coldfield bus stops. Effectively "Lower Parade" is Sutton Coldfield bus station ...
... and the single display for services in all directions is towards the far end of the "outbound" line of shelters on the right in the picture above.
Here is Page 1 of 2:-
Keith looks at the operator codes.

AMN - Arriva Midlands North ...
... service 110.

CLA is Claribel's route 167.

So who operates the rest; surely it is National Express West Midlands.


Page 2 is just the same.
Keith, although he lives in Fakenham (of which more on monday!), knows Birmingham well and thus was able to decode the odd collection of letters.

PB, WA, WB actually refer to the National Express West Midlands garage that runs the bus (Perry Barr, WAlsall, West Bromwich); information that is utterly meanlingless to the readers of the sign!


 A Birthday Indulgence blog : Sunday 25th February 

Friday, 23 February 2018

Another Stagecoach Closure?

The Shape of Things To Come?
The local press in Fort William has broken the news of another Kings Lynn-type total pull out. Of course it is "one option being considered" but Stagecoach has to use such woolly wily words due to its legal responsibility to have "full staff consultation".

But we know what it really means!
The following extracts are distilled from the recent article.

The potential closure of its Fort William bus depot is one of the options being considered by transport giant, Stagecoach, in a review of its operations in Lochaber. Employees of the company are now being consulted on future options for the business and Stagecoach says it is working closely with trade unions to minimise the potential impact on staff.

In a shock statement issued by Stagecoach today (Wednesday February 21) the company revealed that, since April last year, the company had been unable to cover the cost of running its local network due to a combination of tender losses, reduced passenger demand and higher costs, and the situation is no longer sustainable.

The operator – which runs eight vehicles and employs 16 staff in Fort William – has had recent discussion with Highland Council about the future of some services in Lochaber.

The article revels that local service 45 will cease after business on March 17th.
Caol is a pleasant community developed in the 1930s to provide housing for the growing industries in the area.
It is also the location of the Stagecoach depot.
Nothing is said in the article about other routes, notably the evening 47 which continues from Caol to Corpach ...
... and provides a chunk of the Forth William town service. Needless to say the Stagecoach map, copied above, does not match the timetables. It shows the local stuff as being a service 45/46! But see below.

It is reasonable to assume that the trunk route 19 to Inverness can be operated from its northern end ...
... but again, no clear announcement about service 41.
... where the Saturday service is the same as the Monday to Friday school holiday offering. Service 42 on the Stagecoach local map currently runs on schooldays only.

Stagecoach says its Scottish Citylink services to Glasgow, Inverness, Oban and Skye will continue to operate.
The other uncertainty is route 44 which operates south to Kinlochleven every hour.
This offers a gorgeous run down the lochside ...
... and a possible connection with the Corran Ferry.
Sadly you won't find much public transport on the peninsula ...
... but the scenery is delicious throughout Àird nam Murchan!
It is hard to see how the 44 could operate without a deport at Fort William.
Reacting to the news, local MP Ian Blackford told us: ‘I am saddened to hear that Stagecoach is currently reviewing the future of its operation in Fort William and hope that this will not result in closure.’

Nice soundbite, Ian, BUT ...

Stagecoach says it is now "also" considering further options, including what is termed the ‘closure of the business’, but will continue discussing its proposals with Highland Council and other operators to protect as much of the local network as possible.
The most likely beneficiary from the "possible" closure will be Shiel Buses. Back in the days of the Great Britain Bus Timetable (c. year 2000), this company was a small operator of rural routes in Ardnamurchan.
It has expanded greatly and now runs on some former town routes in Fort William. Here is an extract from their service 46/47 to Corpach ...
... and their 42 to Glen Nevis.
Operating a fleet of 35 vehicles ranging in size from 16 seater luxury mini–coaches to 49 seater luxury coaches, the majority of which are DDA Compliant and wheelchair accessible.
The business operation provides school and service contracts operating between Fort William and the Mallaig, Morvern and Ardnamurchan Peninsulas. Private Coach Hire and individual coach and bus tours are also undertaken with a wealth of experience.

Shiel has also been involved in operating contractually for Citylink.
So farewell to Stagecoach in Fort William, almost certainly.

Where next?

Bus watchers and rumour-mongers report that Uncle Brian is still losing money in Sheffield ... so ...

Today's planned technology blog is postponed until ...

 Next technology query blog : Saturday 24th February 

Thursday, 22 February 2018

First's Foray to Fakenham (2)

A Clever Cunning Plan?
It was way back in 2012 that First Bus in Norwich brought our the brass bands, the dancing girls (inappropriate remark No 1) and flags of all nations to announce a revamped network.
Excited beyond belief by this positive publicity push by First, fbb used his blogging skills to review the whole network over several blogs. The two areas involved indirectly in the new X29 to Fakenham are Taverham and Thorpe Marriott (or is it Marriot) which sit alongside the A1067 between Norwich and Fakenham.
Before the COLOUR BRANDING, Thorpe Marriot was served by simple service 28 coloured YELLOW on the old network diagram. Taverham, presumably a source of fewer passengers, had to travel by a more roundabout route numbered 29 (PURPLE).
With the September 2012 changes, the loop via Mill Corner on the 28 was excised, but daytime Taverham journeys still followed a selection of indirect routes (29A and 29B). As a taste of things to come, however, some peak journeys ran direct via the main road A1067 as simple 29, Here is a timetable chunk from over five years ago.
The network has not been static, however, and Taverham now had a 30 minute service direct, providing a bus every 15 minutes along the Fakenham Road.
Both routes run to Sandy Lane (on Fakenham Road at Taverham) ...
The 28 turns right into Kingswood Avenue ...
... and wiggles to its terminal loop. The 29 runs on a bit further before hanging a left ...
... and serving a loop beyond Taverham shops every 30 minutes..
But First have hinted strongly that their new X29 will be one bus an hour extended from Taverham. Whilst the 28/29 YELLOW  timetable leaflet had not yet been reissued ...
... it is noteworthy that the Fakenham X29 journeys leave Norwich at xx50 taking the times of one of the 29s to Taverham.
The return trip from Fakenham slots equally into the return path of the 29 two hours later.

Which means, of course, that the bit of Taverham off the main Road ...
... is reduced from every 30 minutes to hourly.

This piece of clever scheduling does, however, mean the First's X29 will be run at the lowest possible cost. 

But now for the bad news!

For reasons which do not seem sensible, First have, so far, published their timetable with namebanks for Monday to Saturday, which leads to some awful presentation at peak hours from Norwich.
Before cringing at the design, also note hat there is no departure from Norwich on Mondays to Fridays between 1450 and 1630 when schools requirements elsewhere are, apparently, more important that offering your new Fakenham customers a good service.

But a total of six journey with notes is poor. Easily rectified by having a separate Monday to Friday and Saturday panel. 

And, come on First, if you must put your notes trendily at the bottom of the columns, and if you must use words rather than codes, DO NOT PRINT THEM IN YELLOW.

Does anyone really care that two journeys are coded 2 mins later on Mondays to Fridays? Is there not a slight possibility that traffic conditions may make them even later?

The other piece of good news is that Norwich has persevered with colour coded routes ...
... with front end appendages being replaced by the "standard"(?) yellow slash.
But white " NORWICH " on yellow?

It will be interesting to see the full publicity for the X29, and to watch for the woeful protestations from "Disgusted of Taverham" at his/her service chop.

For the record, First runs a non-coloured service 30 to Taverham, picking up some bits that were once served by more frequent routes. It wiggles round Hellesdon ...
... served preciously by the 29A.
It also offers alternative wiggles between Thorpe Marriott and Taverham, again lost when the pre-2012 29 was removed.
It is unlikely, however, that the 30 will offer much succour to Taverhamians who will see their service in the estate halved!
It is good to see that route 30 journeys now call at Heigham Street rather than Heigham Street!

 Next technology query blog : Friday 23rd February