Posts Tagged ‘public transport’

No Electric Trains for Swansea


It was announced this week that electrification of the Great Western main line from London would stop at Cardiff, and not extend to Swansea, despite promises by former PM David Cameron. I’m not surprised at this. Given the state of the Great Western electrifiction – comprehensively messed up by Network Rail – it’s understandable the government will try and cut costs.

While it’s disappointing for Swansea, let’s stop shouting and take a step back. Try and get some perspective.

The city will still get new trains, as the fleet will be bi-mode, i.e. diesel and electric. If the old HSTs were to stay on the line, or the service reduced to a shuttle to Cardiff to connect with the electrics, then the outrage and talk of “betrayal” might have some justification. The wires aren’t going into Bristol either now. Or Oxford.

I’m no fan of Chris Grayling, but his point about the line speed is fair. This line is constrained by geography and has low speeds: Cardiff to Bridgend for example has a maximum of 75 mph with a number of curves. The only possible way around this is to use tilting trains, which as far as I know has never been proposed.

For one train an hour, this was always a marginal scheme. Instead of sulking about this, I think the city council should instead be lobbying for service improvements in the new Wales rail franchise: such as new rolling stock, as well as for the retention of direct trains to Manchester.


Why Stoke City Council is Wrong About HS2


Stoke-on-Trent City Council wants the city to have a station on HS2. It is spending several million pounds of our money trying to persuade the government to re-route the line so it serves the city rather then Crewe. However persuasive the economic arguments may be, they miss one blindingly obvious fact a glance at a railway map will reveal. The reasons for routing the line through Crewe have nothing to do with the size of the town. Crewe is a major railway junction, Stoke is not. That is fact and can’t be avoided, regardless of how much wishful thinking the council employs. It would be better occupied lobbying to get better services from Stoke to connect with the line (start with redoubling the single track route between Alsager and Crewe) and for Stoke to retain a good fast service to London.

Tory austerity has wreaked a terrible toll on an already deprived city. Wasting money on idiotic schemes like this helps no one, especially its hard pressed residents. It’s high time the Council woke up and faced facts.

Rip Off Britain: Rail Fares


Until recently, I travelled a lot by train. This was driven partly by my interest in railways, and partly by not being able to drive. However, since I passed my test in 2010, my train useage has dropped to almost nothing. I quickly found out that even allowing for tax, insurance and petrol, many car journeys are cheaper.

The government is fond of painting rail privatisation as a success story, highlighting the record number of passengers carried. This is surely disingenuous. Such an increase would probably have happened anyway. And it isn’t just passenger humbers that have sky-rocketed. It is undeniable that fares have mushroomed massively to be the most expensive in Europe. Operators say this is to pay for improvements, for jam tomorrow. But they have been saying that for years, and fares continue to rise steeply. And outside of London, I have to question just what some of these “improvements” are, given the now frequent overcrowding.

Rail companies always hide behind the cheap deals available to those who book ahead. This is also disingenuous. The cost of walk on fares have also jumped alarmingly. Just by how much was brought home to me sharply on a recent trip to Manchester. From Stoke, this is a round trip of about 75 miles, and for a day return, I was charged a whopping £17.10! Until recently, if you got a day return, it was cheaper if you travelled after 930am, but such tickets are now also barred for about three hours in the afternoon, so I had to pay top whack. Never again, I’ll drive next time.

I can well understand the environmental arguments in favour of public transport. Sadly, like many things in Britain, it is becoming too expensive. Furthermore, the product offered is generally unappealing. Assuming you can actually get a seat, the chances are it will be uncomfortable, have little or no access to a window and be cramped with poor legroom. And if you have to stand, you have to endure a journey crammed in like cattle. It says a lot about this country that animals being transported have more rights than people. What sort of service is that? To add insult to injury, many if those with seats will have the cheap advance tickets so beloved of operators’ propaganda departments: they pay little and are guaranteed a seat, others get fleeced and have to stand. This is no way to attract people from their cars. It won’t be attracting me from mine anytime soon.

Nice Trams, Shame About The Seats


I recently travelled to Manchester to have a look at the recent extensions to its Metrolink tram network. The city that led to the revival of the tram in Britain (the first section opened in 1992) now has the largest such network. It embraces former heavy rail lines, reopened rail lines as well as new tramways. To operate this expanded system, a fleet of 94 shiny new trams built by Bombardier have been introduced. These have also replaced the initial fleet of vehicles, which though only 20 years old, are likely to go for scrap.

The level of investment that is going into the system is impressive and is to be welcomed. However, I found the seats in the new trams extremely hard and uncomfortable. In fact, they have the worst seats I have ever experienced on any form of public transport. The seats in the original trams were firm, but not as bad as this. Even the much loathed Pacer trains have better seats. While most journeys may be short, even as little as 10 minutes on one of these seats was unpleasant. The 90 minutes from East Didsbury to Rochdale was torture. If I lived in Rochdale and had to commute into Manchester, this would put me off using Metrolink: I’d use Northern’s trains instead.

Given the millions invested in the system’s expansion, it’s a shame a little bit more couldn’t have been spent on passenger comfort. The new trams cost £2 million each so the cost of the seating would surely have been a very small part of that. A major part of public transport enhancement is to try and get people out of their cars. A laudable aim. In my opinion this will only succeed if the buses, trams, trains etc have good quality seating, at least equivalent to, or preferably better, than the average car now has. I’m sorry to say it, but Metrolink falls down on this, and falls down hard.

We’re On An Uncomfortable Bus To Nowhere


On First’s Proposed Service Changes in North Staffs

I read in The Sentinel recently that First are proposing numerous changes to their Potteries network. As I read through the list, my interest turned to disappointment. They have tried to put a positive spin on the proposals, but many are retrograde in my opinion.

For example:

Re-reouting the 25/X25 via the hospitals sounds good in theory, but will add 10-15 minutes to journey times. It sounds more like a response to Arriva/Wardle’s increased services via the hospitals.

This re-routing will mean the withdrawal of the 24/24A so the southern end of Leek Road will have no service at all, and First will have abandoned Penkhull.

Linking the 25/X25 into the 20 (Hanley-Alsager-Crewe) also sounds good in theory. While it’s good to have another cross Hanley service, there is a potentially negative impact: it will mean the end of double-deck operation out of Keele university, thanks to low bridges near Kidsgrove. Double deckers were introduced onto the 25 to combat persistent overcrowding. The only solution would be to re-route the 20 via Butt Lane, avoiding the bridges, but removing buses from Liverpool Road, past Tescos. This will also lead to longer journey times.

Keele-Crewe via Hanley and Kidsgrove is not a natural route, given that it will probably take over 1 1/2 hours to complete, almost double the time of D&G’s 85 which runs direct. Lengthy routes like this are also more at risk of delays en route.

The diversion of 23/23A away from Stoke town centre removes 6 buses an hour from there to Hanley.

First’s abandonment of Longton bus station will turn it into a little used white elephant.

The plan to divert several services away from Hanley bus station makes a mockery of the recent multi-million pound investment in building it. To say the bus station is remote from the shopping area is disingenuous as it’s no further than the old bus station.

The new service 21B to Trentham Gardens is welcome. However, the core frequency between Hanley and Hanford remains every 10 minutes so this means Pacific Road and Longton Road will see a reduction from three to two buses every hour (every 20 minutes to every 30).

Improvements to services are always welcome, but these proposals need a rethink. I would rather the current service was more reliable, and more importantly, I’d like to see newer and better buses with better seating. Most of First’s buses in the Potteries are well over ten years old and far too many of them are fitted with hard, uncomfortable seats with poor legroom, even the newer ones. The last time First Potteries got new buses was in 2006. Contrast this with the Council owned vehicles used on tendered services, especially the Plumline. This is something that should be addressed as a matter of urgency. I’m tired of paying high fares for uncomfortable journeys. This is not the way to attract people from their cars.

Nick Cohen: Writing from London

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