Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Prospects for 2010

Once the operators are clear of the immediate imperative of making things happen in adverse weather conditions (I am trying to avoid being tempted to be sidetracked into this subject) there are several strategic issues which will arise this year.

Today it is announced that Quality Contracts are coming, and these will restore some order into bus operation. This is an opportunity for local authorities to start 'encouraging' integration in ways which have not been entirely practical for nearly thirty years. We wait with eager anticipation to see how many of them do.

One of the things which worries me about buses compared with trains is that while trains generally operate during the waking day, many bus services operate only during the working day. It is possible to get almost anywhere by bus, but very often impossible to return the same day, so many potential bus users have to resort to the car, however unwillingly. In 1930 the newly-appointed traffic commissioners were expected to require the holders of road service licences to operate a proportion of 'unremunerative mileage' such as evening services in return for effective monopolies on the routes for which they were granted licences. The commissioners failed to do this, as they failed in so many other things, and since 1986 it has been solely the responsibility of the local authorities to subsidise non-commercial services. Perhaps this is their chance to do what the traffic commissioners failed to do 80 years ago.

There are several other nettles which might be grasped quite soon. Don't miss the next thrilling instalment.

John Wylde

Monday, 11 January 2010

Trains and Services

Have you noticed how so many on-train announcements reveal that the operators have failed to train the staff adequately? Many of them cannot distinguish between when 'train' is appropriate, and when 'service', with the result that many announcements are rubbish. It is quite simple really - the train is the hardware, it is the thing, and the service is the software, it is what the train does. Also, it would be better if the staff could be persuaded not to begin each announcement with 'Once again .....', and that goes for the platform staff too.

One good thing about the East Coast Main Line is that they do use the proper term for the guard, and do not call him or her by some other fancy name. One of them told me that GNER spent years building up staff morale, and National Express destroyed it in the twinkling of an eye. Now we are in for a prolonged period of uncertainty, as everybody knows that the ECML Company is only a holding operation until a new franchisee is appointed in about 18-24 months. Who will get it then? Apparently the name on everybody's lips is Virgin, which would make sense, because it will be on offer just as their West Coast franchise comes to an end. Might they re-win that as well? Would they be allowed to scoop a monopoly of the Anglo-Scottish traffic? Why not? The December 2010 timetable for the ECML withdraws the East Coast services from Glasgow, so how could they compete with each other? Better to make a concerted effort to reduce the air services, and it is surprising how so many people still seem to want to drive.

I asked previously why on earth Virgin are allowed to run Voyagers under the wires all the way from Birmingham to Scotland without a whisper from them or anybody else as to when these will be replaced with electric trains. Now we understand that Bombardier have said that they could be converted to electro-diesel quite easily. That would be fine for the few used on the North Wales services, but why not a simple conversion to straight electric without retaining the diesel engines for the others? You know it makes sense.

If Bombardier can do that for the Voyagers, my next question (not being an engineer) is can Siemens do the same thing for the 185s, if some of these are to be transferred to the new mini-franchise to take over the Manchester - Scotland services? A fourth coach with the pantograph would not need to be motored, presumably, so would be slightly cheaper - four coaches are increasingly necessary on these services.

It was so foolish to specify the 185s with what one of the First managers blatently described as 'sexy ends'. Fancy choosing appearance over practicality!

Talking of First, one wonders why they did not simply transfer the Adelantes from Great Western to Trans-Pennine for the Scottish services, and/or to Scotrail for internal Scottish services such as Edinburgh/Glasgow - Aberdeen, and as for Northern having three, even temporarily, why? What need does Northern have for 125 mph capability and first-class accommodation? Northern needs extra capacity, but the Adelantes could have released some 170s from TP or 158s from Scotrail for Northern. There are strange goings-on on the railway.

What was it that Reg Gardner said at the end of his 'Trains' record? 'That's all for now, folks, back to the asylum.'

John Wylde