Thursday 27 June 2013

WGL Heritage Running Weekend to go ahead

Western Greyhound are once again holding their Heritage Running Weekend, with more visitors expected this year, purely down to the added respect from many enthusiasts after the very impressive 'Rise from the ashes' seen after the awful fire. In a change to the usual format, the Saturday running day will see a Heritage Route put in place, running every 20 minutes from Newquay Bus Station, utilising vehicles not only from their own collection, but also visiting vehicles, on a trip of around 1 hour. Friday will see RM1062 used in public service on routes 556 and 591, with Sunday seeing them take part in the annual Cornish Commercial Vehicle Run. Full details can be found by following the link below. 

Operating an Optare

The Go-Ahead group have recently been trailing an Optare Versa at their various subsidiaries  with the latest stop along its route being at Plymouth Citybus. She is being used for evaluation at various locations to see whether the vehicle type is something that they would consider operating full time in the future. The vehicle has so far only been used at Go North East, within which she has operated for the past 5 months, with her now expected to be used in Plymouth for the coming 2 months before her next move. This would be an interesting turn away from the group's usual buying policy of heavyweight vehicles, which in recent times have mainly consisted of Volvo B7RLEs, Mercedes Citaros and Scania OmniCitys. Operating such buses does of course come at a cost, and undoubtedly the group are looking to save money on fuel, especially considering such vehicles as the Citaro can rarely achieve above 3-4mpg. My apologies for the poor photography, the sun was awful for taking photos of it in that position!

Monday 24 June 2013

An eye on Ilfracombe

Whilst on a recent visit to Ilfracombe, back out enjoying the delights the South West has to offer, it came as quite a shock to find that the old Bus Station in the town is no longer used for its original purpose, and is instead now infested with cars! Yet there appears to be no appropriate signage to say that this is now allowed, with ‘Buses Only’ signs and road markings still in place. No services now use the bus station, and instead wait time just up the road, and load up just before the sharp right hand bend approaching the bus station. It’s fair to say that Ilfracombe’s bus station wasn’t the nicest place to be whilst waiting for your bus, it had certainly been neglected for many years, with the closure of the bus depot not helping its cause. The old office buildings are also a shadow of what they once were, but it is a shame that it has now used for another purpose with no effort made to bring it up to scratch. The space as it is, isn’t ideal for cars as it stands anyway, and is really quite an inefficient use of the void.

The land was sold by First Devon and Cornwall in 2007 along with the depot buildings, with proposals to turn the space into 50 flats, but this was rejected in 2012. It was the withdrawal of First from the bus station though that appears to have prompted its closure by its new owners Omnium and was due to be closed off to the public, but evidently, that hasn’t been the case. There now appears to be no set use for the space, with nothing proposed, unless the company is continuing to modify it’s idea for dwellings to be built in its place. In reaction to the closure of the bus station there are going to be changes to the roads in the town centre, with a new mini roundabout added, as well as extra space for buses to wait time and load/unload from, as what is there at the moment is somewhat inadequate; although it must be said, no where near as busy as it has been in the past.

Sunday 23 June 2013

Snap on Sunday

I'm sorry, I know that my SoS has all too frequently included one of the fine Ex-Bristol Leyland Olympians, but I did miss the final withdrawal of them from the city, so please do cut me some slack! Also pictured is another bus that I am now led to believe has been withdrawn from the Plymouth fleet, now awaiting her onward fate, this being K801 ORL. As has been discussed for years, 1801 in old money certainly has good reason to be saved, with her being the very first Volvo Olympian registered for the road, so lets hope a plan is afoot for her to enter preservation soon. This is if indeed my leads are correct, and she is no longer working; of course, I haven't been down here to see and confirm this first hand! 

Whilst all this has been going on, two of the K-LAEs continue to dodge the scrapman at every opportunity, with K615 and K629 LAE continuing to operate in service against all odds in Cornwall, somewhat ironic considering that the final K-LAE had been withdrawn from Cornwall for a considerable period, before their return. Also now at work in Cornwall is P568 EFL which had been converted for use on the Torpoint Ferry. It appears that no Olympians are currently needed at Torpoint, with them being able to survive on 5 Tridents and 3 Darts, with the X80 Tridents covering any gaps due to breakdowns. Surprising though that P568 EFL was put into Cornwall, as a vehicle with a ferry lift is required for the Dartmouth Academy school bus which uses the Dartmouth Higher Ferry. K803 ORL is hence the only step entrance vehicle available for this duty now. It seems undesirable to keep a Trident with a ferry lift tied up all day just to operate the morning and evening journey on this service, so you would have thought a spare would be retained, but evidently that isn't the case!

Friday 21 June 2013

Wave "Hello!" to the new Waves!

With First now vacated from the North Devon bus scene, Stagecoach largely have it all to themselves, save a few select routes operated by independents, Filers and Beacon Bus, although even their presence seems to have dwindled somewhere since previous visits. All this hasn't been met with a reduction in good working practice though, in fact you will now find quite the opposite on a visit to Barnstaple bus station. Stagecoach has just been taking delivery of 22 brand new Enviro 400 bodied Scania ND230s for use on not only their 'North Devon Wave' branded network, but also on other routes around the area, with some of the batch painted into standard 'Beachball' livery. It was also surprising to find that the day ticket was of such reasonable cost; just £3.50 to cover their whole network, or a whole week's worth for £11. A reduction in competition certainly doesn't seem to yet have been met with any price hikes! Of course as is often mentioned, the bus industry's real enemy is the car, and not each other. In many a town operators actually co-exist quite peacefully, and certainly at least show a mutual respect for each other, which I've found to very much be the case in Huddersfield. Although the combined forces of Centrebus owned K-Line and Huddersfield Bus Company have the power to do something, there isn't really any meaningful level of competition seen on any routes in Kirklees, operators have stuck pretty solidly to their 'traditional' territory. 

Anyway, back to the reason for this post, it seems to me, unless anyone can correct me, that this order of 22 brand new vehicles is the largest influx of new buses the South West has seen since NBC days. Stagecoach have invested to the tune of £4 million, with what appears to be no outside help; certainly there is nothing to suggest that the local council contributed to the buying of these at all. This amisdt cuts in BSOG, local authority funding and with the network in North Devon being so rural, make such an investment even more impressive; Stagecoach evidently seem to see promise in North Devon. 

Now with my enthusiasts hat on, I must be frank and say I disapprove of these vehicles. My first little niggle with them is the livery. It's unquestionable that the new Wave branding is tidier than the previous incarnation seen on the Tridents which does play to their advantage, but with it, the livery loses a bit of individuality, again though, not necessarily a bad thing. The seating was also a bit of a disappointment. Considering people could potentially be on these vehicles for anything up to 1hr 45minutes, it's a shame that they didn't opt to fit something a bit nicer than the standard seating. The rearmost seating on both decks is fitted with a plastic type seat cover as well, which although practical, does make them a lot less comfortable. Despite only being weeks old, the Alexander Enviro 400 bodywork already squeaks and rattles around a surprising amount, which is a shame, as you'd hope the build quality would be slightly better from one of the leading manufacturers. The biggest disappointment comes from the mechanics though. Although the vehicle offers a smooth gearchange, that's about the only nice part. The suspension is noticeably hard which you certainly feel on some of the rural roads, along with the engine being woefully underpowered. This is most likely in the pursuit of fuel saving, and the gearbox changing up early encourages a further fuel reduction, but the vehicles really do seem to struggle on the hills in the region, of which some are particularly testing. Surprisingly, the vehicle's cooling fans stayed on constantly, the whole time I was on 2 different vehicles, evidently showing that they were being worked hard to heave their way along, with the noise being produced by this being of such a horrible pitch, it caused headaches for all involved (video included below)! Of course it is easy for someone to counter this in saying is there any real need for the bus to be doing a great deal of speed, but on roads such as these, I would actually argue that the competing motorist will inevitably end up stuck behind one of these buses quite frequently, trundling along, and hence would be put off knowing that they'd be getting home slower - it's all in the visual! I'm not saying it would be better to put on a 20 year old Leyland Lynx which would wholly likely be able to overtake cars on those roads, but there does surely need to be some sort of balance; surely there is a more appropriate vehicle out there for the route. 

Sunday 16 June 2013

Snap on Sunday

Today sees the return of the weekly Snap on Sunday feature, this week continuing the Western Greyhound theme. As I mentioned yesterday, the photograph used by WGL on the timetable for this year wouldn't have been my first choice from my collection, although this is wholly likely down to my poor naming of photos on Flickr! In my defense, the naming is horrendously time consuming, and hence, relatively few have been done, as more and more of my free time is eaten away. We shall have to see if we can rectify this soon! Anyway, the photo this week depicts one of Western Greyhounds very impressive looking Optare Solo SRs in Truro, taken at the tail end of last summer. The flower beds are placed perfectly to incorporate them into the photos taken at the layover point for Western Greyhound services in the city, and hence I often capitalise on this, especially when they're in such wonderful bloom as they were during this period. 

Saturday 15 June 2013

Solo on show

Once again, I have had the privilege of one of my photos being selected by Western Greyhound for use on their mini timetable guides! This year, my photo adorns the cover of the booklet for service 593 between Plymouth and Newquay with publications manager Dicky Souray once again doing a masterful job of presenting the timetable. The photo is however tinged with sadness, as the bus depicted is one of many which unfortunately were caught up in the awful fire at Summercourt depot last month, this being Optare Solo MX06 BRZ (951). A tragic event which I'm sure many of you will now be fully aware of, but what has struck me most is the way in which the industry, as it always does, has rallied around Mark and the team to get things back up and running with haste. It's fantastic to see how supportive one another is in these situations, with buses coming from as far afield as Blackpool and Norfolk, which I will go into in more depth at a later date. The way Mark and his loyal team have coped with the pressure to get the services back up and running so swiftly is admirable, for want of a stronger word. It's nice therefore that 951 will live on in timetable form for a short while longer, although I must concede, I wouldn't have said this photo was some of my 'finest work', but evidently, it has still met WGL's exacting standards. 

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Hurting for Heron

Hello, and a hearty welcome back from a re-invigorated blogger, who has returned to the region for a lengthy summer break! For those of you interested, the first year of  my degree, reading Transport and Logistics Management has been a success from all angles. Despite this being a realisation of a dream concocted over many years, with expectations very high, the University of Huddersfield has still managed to surpass them. Finally discovering what makes it all tick, learning about the processes involved, and ascertaining the required skills to enable me to take on these new challenges has been wholeheartedly thrilling. There's hardly been a day where I haven't wanted to get in to the University's converted Mill buildings, and listen intently to what the lecturers deliver. The things covered have ranged from the essential building blocks, the practical skills if you will, of accounting, financial management, and business statistics analysis, right through to looking back at history, with the breakup privatisation of the NBC, and formulating our own ideas to take on the 'Transport Challenges' currently being faced. A very exciting first year, with much more to come over the the next three, it's certainly a decision I am very pleased I made. So hence I am now on the lookout for extra experience over my summer break to boost my knowledge even further, and apply some of these new found skills I'm itching to use! If anyone has any ideas, or indeed offers for a summer job/placement, please do get in touch. 

Now, to business, and my two penneth on the new livery now adorning poor old Heron. The Tamar Link livery was, at first, quite a startling livery to say the least. My first thoughts looking out the gates of Fourlanesend primary, were that it was far too bold, with it clashing awfully with the peaceful countryside and sleepy villages they wound their way through. Undoubtedly though, that's exactly what First (or indeed, the council) were going for, something that stood out to such an extent, people would take interest, and realise that a fair old sum of money had just been splashed out on some lovely new buses. This is indeed of course the thinking behind Mark Howarth's 1st generation Western Greyhound livery, that of the pink base, with blue fleetname, purely to attract the attention of potential customers, to get them to realise there was a new kid on the block, and doubtless this went part way to establishing the company so well, from the off. The livery being used as advertising works even better when you consider that the competing motorist has to spend at the very least, about 9 minutes of their journey looking at them, whilst travelling beside the pink monsters on the Torpoint Ferry. Tamar Link did indeed cause quite a stir, not just locally, but nationally as well, as branded routes became even more prominent in the mid 2000s (I'm still refusing to refer them to as the 'noughies'!). It's therefore quite a shame to see them finally passing into the history, books, although as has been mentioned, a repaint is certainly overdue on these. I've covered before how faded they are when compared to the coat being fresh, pink appears to be particularly susceptible to fading, and hence, maybe it was time to let go. It may surprise you to discover than the Mercedes Varios that were painted into the TL livery were actually repainted twice during their relatively short 4 year stint at Torpoint before withdrawal, whereas the Tridents have gone double that period, with just the single coat. The original Dart, 'Kingfisher', has also had 2 repaints into TL, but the question now looms as to whether she will make it into the new livery, considering one of her sisters from the S-RNE batch has now been withdrawn.

It has been remarked that the DEVON fleetname now applied to 32756 (she's lost her name, I can't call her Heron anymore :-( ) is somewhat inappropriate on a bus that does spend a majority of it's time at Torpoint, in Cornwall, and I have to admit, I do agree. A reapplication of just the Tamar Link fleetname, or even, Ferrybus would have been more suited, but considering not even the P&R Enviros have had PARK AND RIDE plastered onto them, it was always going to be a long shot. In all her wisdom, Mother Mayhew suggested, "Why not have Devon on one side, and Cornwall on the other?". Indeed, I've got to concede, this may well have been the ideal solution. The Cornish undoubtedly will be hostile towards this thing from DEVON taking over their bus route, it's not right! So a compromise at both, also of course showing the link between the two, would highly likely have been the happy medium, not causing confusion when operating in Plymouth, but still giving a nod, to it's true routes (pardon
the pun!) in Cornwall.